U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues




U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces:
Background, Developments, and Issues

Updated December 10, 2020
Congressional Research Service
https://crsreports.congress.gov
RL33640




U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues

Summary
Even though the United States has reduced the number of warheads deployed on its long-range
missiles and bombers, consistent with the terms of the 2010 New START Treaty, it is also
developing new delivery systems for deployment over the next 10-30 years. The 117th Congress
will continue to review these programs, and the funding requested for them, during the annual
authorization and appropriations process.
During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal contained many types of delivery vehicles for
nuclear weapons. The longer-range systems, which included long-range missiles based on U.S.
territory, long-range missiles based on submarines, and heavy bombers that could threaten Soviet
targets from their bases in the United States, are known as strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. At
the end of the Cold War, in 1991, the United States deployed more than 10,000 warheads on these
delivery vehicles. With the implementation of New START completed in February 2018, the
United States is limited to 1,550 accountable warheads on these delivery vehicles, a restriction
that will remain in place at least through 2021, while New START Treaty remains in force.
At the present time, the U.S. land-based ballistic missile force (ICBMs) consists of 400 land-
based Minuteman III ICBMs, each deployed with one warhead, spread among a total of 450
operational launchers. This force is consistent with the New START Treaty. The Air Force has
modernized the Minuteman missiles, replacing and upgrading their rocket motors, guidance
systems, and other components, so that they can remain in the force through 2030. It has initiated
a program to replace these with a new Ground-based Strategic Deterrent beginning around 2029.
The U.S. ballistic missile submarine fleet currently consists of 14 Trident submarines. Each can
carry 20 Trident II (D-5) missiles—a reduction from 24 missiles per submarine—with the total
meeting the launcher limits in the New START Treaty. The Navy converted 4 of the original 18
Trident submarines to carry nonnuclear cruise missiles. Nine of the submarines are deployed in
the Pacific Ocean and five are in the Atlantic. The Navy also has undertaken efforts to extend the
life of the missiles and warheads so that they and the submarines can remain in the fleet past
2020. It has designed and is beginning production of the new Columbia class submarine that will
replace the existing fleet beginning in 2031.
The U.S. fleet of heavy bombers includes 20 B-2 bombers and 40 nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.
The B-1 bomber is no longer equipped for nuclear missions. This fleet of 60 nuclear-capable
aircraft is consistent with the U.S. obligations under New START. The Air Force has begun to
retire the nuclear-armed cruise missiles carried by B-52 bombers, leaving only about half the B-
52 fleet equipped to carry nuclear weapons. The Air Force plans to procure both a new long-range
bomber, known as the B-21, and a new long-range standoff (LRSO) cruise missile during the
2020s. DOE is also modifying and extending the life of the B61 bomb carried on B-2 bombers
and fighter aircraft and the W80 warhead for cruise missiles.
The Obama Administration completed a review of the size and structure of the U.S. nuclear force,
and a review of U.S. nuclear employment policy, in June 2013. This review advised the force
structure that the United States has deployed under the New START Treaty. The Trump
Administration completed its review of U.S. nuclear forces in February 2018, and reaffirmed the
basic contours of the current U.S. force structure and the ongoing modernization programs. The
Trump Administration has also developed and deployed a new low-yield warhead on Trident II
(D-5) missiles. Congress will review plans for U.S. strategic nuclear forces during the annual
authorization and appropriations process, and as it assesses the costs of these plans in the current
fiscal environment.
Congressional Research Service

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Contents
Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1
Background: The Strategic Triad ..................................................................................................... 3
Force Structure and Size During the Cold War ......................................................................... 3
Force Structure and Size After the Cold War ............................................................................ 4
Current and Future Force Structure and Size ............................................................................ 7
Strategic Nuclear Delivery Vehicles: Post-Cold War Reductions and Current
Modernization Programs .............................................................................................................. 9
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) ............................................................................. 9
Peacekeeper (MX) .............................................................................................................. 9
Minuteman III ................................................................................................................... 10
Minuteman Modernization Programs ............................................................................... 13
Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ...................................................................... 17
Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles .................................................................................. 23
The SSGN Program .......................................................................................................... 23
The Backfit Program ......................................................................................................... 24
Basing Changes ................................................................................................................. 25
Warhead Loadings ............................................................................................................ 25
Modernization Plans and Programs .................................................................................. 26
The Columbia Class Submarine ........................................................................................ 30
Bombers .................................................................................................................................. 35
B-1 Bomber ....................................................................................................................... 35
B-2 Bomber ....................................................................................................................... 36
B-52 Bomber ..................................................................................................................... 39
B-21 Bomber ..................................................................................................................... 44
Sustaining the Nuclear Weapons Enterprise............................................................................ 47
Issues for Congress ........................................................................................................................ 49
Force Size ................................................................................................................................ 50
Force Structure ........................................................................................................................ 52
The Cost of Nuclear Weapons ................................................................................................. 56

Figures
Figure 1. U.S. Strategic Nuclear Weapons: 1960-1990 ................................................................... 3
Figure 2. U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: 1991-2020 ....................................................................... 5

Tables
Table 1. U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces Under START I and START II .......................................... 6
Table 2. U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces under New START ............................................................ 8

Contacts
Author Information ........................................................................................................................ 58
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U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues

Introduction
During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal contained many types of delivery vehicles for
nuclear weapons. These included short-range missiles and artillery for use on the battlefield,
medium-range missiles and aircraft that could strike targets beyond the theater of battle, short-
and medium-range systems based on surface ships, long-range missiles based on U.S. territory
and submarines, and heavy bombers that could threaten Soviet targets from their bases in the
United States. The short- and medium-range systems are considered nonstrategic nuclear
weapons and have been referred to as battlefield, tactical, and theater nuclear weapons. The long-
range missiles and heavy bombers are known as strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.
In 1990, as the Cold War was drawing to a close and the Soviet Union entered its final year, the
United States had more than 12,000 nuclear warheads deployed on 1,875 strategic nuclear
delivery vehicles.1 As of July 1, 2009, according to the counting rules in the original Strategic
Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the United States had reduced to 5,916 nuclear warheads on
1,188 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.2 Under the terms of the 2002 Strategic Offensive
Reduction Treaty (known as the Moscow Treaty) between the United States and Russia, this
number was to decline to no more than 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads
by the end of 2012. The U.S. Department of State reported that the United States had reached that
level, with only 1,968 operationally deployed strategic warheads in December 2009.3 The New
START Treaty, signed by President Obama and Russia’s President Medvedev on April 8, 2010,
reduced those forces further, to no more than 1,550 warheads on deployed launchers and heavy
bombers.4 According to the U.S. Department of State, on September 1, 2020, the United States
had 1,457 warheads on 675 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, within a total of 800
deployed and nondeployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.5
Although these numbers do not count the same categories of nuclear weapons, they indicate that
the number of deployed warheads on U.S. strategic nuclear forces has declined significantly in
the decades following the end of the Cold War. Yet, nuclear weapons continue to play a key role
in U.S. national security strategy, and the United States does not, at this time, plan to either
eliminate its nuclear weapons or abandon the strategy of nuclear deterrence that has served as a
core concept in U.S. national security strategy for more than 60 years. In a speech in Prague on
April 5, 2009, President Obama highlighted “America’s commitment to seek the peace and
security of a world without nuclear weapons.” But he recognized that this goal would not be
reached quickly, and probably not in his lifetime.6 And, even though President Obama pledged to

1 Natural Resources Defense Council. Table of U.S. Strategic Offensive Force Loadings. Archive of Nuclear Data.
http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/nudb/datab1.asp. The same source indicates that the Soviet Union, in 1990, had just over
11,000 warheads on 2,332 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.
2 Russia, by the same accounting, had 3,909 warheads on 814 delivery vehicles. See U.S. Department of State, Bureau
of Verification, Compliance and Inspection. Fact Sheet. START Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Weapons.
October 1, 2009. Washington, DC.
3 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty: Promoting Disarmament,
Washington, DC, April 27, 2010, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/141497.pdf.
4 The parties are to meet this limit within seven years of entry-into-force, which could occur in early 2011. For more
information on the New START Treaty, see CRS Report R41219, The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key
Provisions
, by Amy F. Woolf.
5 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of State, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, New START
Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Forces, Fact Sheet, Washington, DC, https://www.state.gov/new-
start-treaty-aggregate-numbers-of-strategic-offensive-arms-15/.
6 The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Remarks by President Obama, Prague, Czech Republic, April 5,
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U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues

reduce the roles and numbers of U.S. nuclear forces, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review noted that
“the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons
exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.”7 Moreover, in the
2010 NPR and in the June 2013 Report on the Nuclear Employment Guidance of the United
States,8 the Obama Administration indicated that the United States would pursue programs that
would allow it to modernize and adjust its strategic forces so that they remained capable in
coming years.
The Trump Administration emphasized its continuing support for the U.S. nuclear arsenal in its
Nuclear Posture Review, which it released on February 2, 2018. This document noted that “the
current threat environment and future uncertainties now necessitate a national commitment to
maintain modern and effective nuclear forces, as well as the infrastructure needed to support
them.”9 The report not only reaffirmed the basic contours of the current U.S. force structure and
the ongoing modernization programs, it also called for the development of a new low-yield
warhead for deployment on Trident II (D-5) missiles.
Most Members of Congress have supported the general contours of U.S. nuclear posture. While
some programs have been open to scrutiny, Congress has continued to support funding for most
aspects of the ongoing modernization programs. Nevertheless, questions about the costs of these
programs, and the trade-offs they might require within the defense budget, surfaced after
Congress passed the Budget Control Act in 2011. These concerns, along with questions about the
rationale for some of the modernization programs, received additional attention in the 116th
Congress. While Senator James Inhofe, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee,
offered strong support for the nuclear modernization programs, Representative Adam Smith, who
chairs the House Armed Services Committee, noted that “the current $1.5 trillion plan to build
new nuclear weapons and upgrade our nuclear weapons complex is unrealistic and unaffordable.”
Congress may again address questions about the costs of the nuclear modernization programs,
and the possible trade-offs with other defense priorities, as the Pentagon absorbs the costs of
responding to the Covid-19 crisis and possibly alters its procurement and readiness priorities.
This report reviews the ongoing programs that will affect the expected size and shape of the U.S.
strategic nuclear force structure. It begins with an overview of this force structure during the Cold
War, and summarizes the reductions and changes that have occurred since 1991. It then offers
details about each category of delivery vehicle—land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles
(ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers—focusing on their
current deployments and ongoing and planned modernization programs. The report concludes
with a discussion of issues related to decisions about the future size and shape of the U.S.
strategic nuclear force.

2009, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-barack-obama-prague-delivered.
7 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, April 6, 2010, p. 15, https://dod.defense.gov/
Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.
8 https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a590745.pdf.
9 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, p. 2, https://media.defense.gov/
2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF.
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U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues

Background: The Strategic Triad
Force Structure and Size During the Cold War
Since the early 1960s the United States has maintained a “triad” of strategic nuclear delivery
vehicles. The United States first developed these three types of nuclear delivery vehicles, in large
part, because each of the military services wanted to play a role in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
However, during the 1960s and 1970s, analysts developed a more reasoned rationale for the
nuclear “triad.” They argued that these different basing modes had complementary strengths and
weaknesses. They would enhance deterrence and discourage a Soviet first strike because they
complicated Soviet attack planning and ensured the survivability of a significant portion of the
U.S. force in the event of a Soviet first strike.10 The different characteristics might also strengthen
the credibility of U.S. targeting strategy. For example, ICBMs eventually had the accuracy and
prompt responsiveness needed to attack hardened targets such as Soviet command posts and
ICBM silos, SLBMs had the survivability needed to complicate Soviet efforts to launch a
disarming first strike and to retaliate if such an attack were attempted,11 and heavy bombers could
be dispersed quickly and launched to enhance their survivability, and they could be recalled to
their bases if a crisis did not escalate into conflict.
Figure 1. U.S. Strategic Nuclear Weapons: 1960-1990

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, Archive of Nuclear Data.
Figure 1 displays the increases in delivery vehicles and warheads in the U.S. force structure
between 1960, when the United States first began to deploy ICBMs, and 1990, the year before the
United States and Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
According to unclassified estimates, these numbers grew steadily through the mid-1960s, with the

10 Department of Defense. Annual Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 1989, by Frank Carlucci, Secretary of Defense.
February 18, 1988. Washington, DC, 1988. p. 54.
11 In the early 1990s, SLBMs also acquired the accuracy needed to attack many hardened sites in the former Soviet
Union.
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U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues

greatest number of delivery vehicles, 2,268, deployed in 1967. The number then held relatively
steady through 1990, at between 1,875 and 2,200 ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers. The
number of warheads carried on these delivery vehicles increased sharply through 1975, then, after
a brief pause, again rose sharply in the early 1980s, peaking at around 13,600 warheads in 1987.
The sharp increase in warheads in the early 1970s reflects the deployment of ICBMs and SLBMs
with multiple warheads, known as MIRVs (multiple independent reentry vehicles). In particular,
the United States began to deploy the Minuteman III ICBM, with 3 warheads on each missile, in
1970, and the Poseidon SLBM, which could carry 10 warheads on each missile, in 1971.12 The
increase in warheads in the mid-1980s reflects the deployment of the Peacekeeper (MX) ICBM,
which carried 10 warheads on each missile.
In 1990, before it concluded the START Treaty with the Soviet Union, the United States deployed
a total of around 12,304 warheads on its ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers. The ICBM force
consisted of single-warhead Minuteman II missiles, 3-warhead Minuteman III missiles, and 10-
warhead Peacekeeper (MX) missiles, for a total force of 2,450 warheads on 1,000 missiles. The
submarine force included Poseidon submarines with Poseidon C-3 and Trident I (C-4) missiles,
and the Ohio-class Trident submarines with Trident I, and some Trident II (D-5) missiles. The
total force consisted of 5,216 warheads on around 600 missiles.13 The bomber force centered on
94 B-52H bombers and 96 B-1 bombers, along with many of the older B-52G bombers and 2 of
the new (at the time) B-2 bombers. This force of 260 bombers could carry over 4,648 weapons.
Force Structure and Size After the Cold War
During the 1990s, the United States reduced the numbers and types of weapons in its strategic
nuclear arsenal, both as a part of its modernization process and in response to the limits in the
1991 START Treaty. The United States continued to maintain a triad of strategic nuclear forces,
however, with warheads deployed on ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers. According to the
Department of Defense, this mix of forces not only offered the United States a range of
capabilities and flexibility in nuclear planning and complicated an adversary’s attack planning,
but also hedged against unexpected problems in any single delivery system. This latter issue
became more of a concern in this time period, as the United States retired many of the different
types of warheads and missiles that it had deployed over the years, reducing the redundancy in its
force.
The 1991 START Treaty limited the United States to a maximum of 6,000 total warheads, and
4,900 warheads on ballistic missiles, deployed on up to 1,600 strategic offensive delivery
vehicles. However, the treaty did not count the actual number of warheads deployed on each type
of ballistic missile or bomber. Instead, it used “counting rules” to determine how many warheads
would count against the treaty’s limits. For ICBMs and SLBMs, this number usually equaled the
actual number of warheads deployed on the missile. Bombers, however, used a different system.
Bombers that were not equipped to carry air-launched cruise missiles (the B-1 and B-2 bombers)
counted as one warhead; bombers equipped to carry air-launched cruise missiles (B-52 bombers)
could carry 20 missiles, but would only count as 10 warheads against the treaty limits. These
rules have led to differing estimates of the numbers of warheads on U.S. strategic nuclear forces

12 GlobalSecurity.org LGM Minuteman III History and Poseidon C-3 History. http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/
systems/lgm-30_3-hist.htm and http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/systems/c-3.htm.
13 The older Poseidon submarines were in the process of being retired, and the number of missiles and warheads in the
submarine fleet dropped quickly in the early 1990s, to around 2,688 warheads on 336 missiles by 1993. See Natural
Resources Defense Council. Table of U.S. Strategic Offensive Force Loadings. Archive of Nuclear Data.
http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/nudb/datab1.asp.
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during the 1990s; some estimates count only those warheads that count against the treaty while
others count all the warheads that could be carried by the deployed delivery systems.
According to unclassified data, the United States reduced its nuclear weapons from 9,300
warheads on 1,239 delivery vehicles in 1991 to 6,196 warheads on 1,064 delivery vehicles when
it completed the implementation of START in 2001. By 2009, the United States had reduced its
forces to approximately 2,200 warheads on around 850 delivery vehicles. According to the U.S.
Department of State, as of December 2009, the United States had 1,968 operationally deployed
warheads on its strategic offensive nuclear forces.14 The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in its
Nuclear Notebook, estimated that these numbers held steady in 2010, prior to New START’s
entry into force, then began to decline again, falling to around 1,750 warheads on around 750
delivery vehicles by 2019, as the United States implemented the reductions mandated by New
START (this total includes weapons that the U.S. Department of State does not count in the New
START force).15 These numbers appear in Figure 2.
Figure 2. U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: 1991-2020

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, Archive of Nuclear Data, Bul etin of the Atomic Scientists,
Nuclear Notebook.
During the 1990s, the United States continued to add to its Trident fleet, reaching a total of 18
submarines. It retired all of its remaining Poseidon submarines and all of the single-warhead
Minuteman II missiles. It continued to deploy B-2 bombers, reaching a total of 21, and removed
some of the older B-52G bombers from the nuclear fleet. Consequently, in 2001, its warheads
were deployed on 18 Trident submarines with 24 missiles on each submarine and 6 or 8 warheads
on each missile; 500 Minuteman III ICBMs, with up to 3 warheads on each missile; 50
Peacekeeper (MX) missiles, with 10 warheads on each missile; 94 B-52H bombers, with up to 20
cruise missiles on each bomber; and 21 B-2 bombers with up to 16 bombs on each aircraft.
The United States and Russia signed a second START Treaty in early 1993. Under this treaty, the
United States would have had to reduce its strategic offensive nuclear weapons to between 3,000
and 3,500 accountable warheads. In 1994, the Department of Defense decided that, to meet this
limit, it would deploy a force of 500 Minuteman III ICBMs with 1 warhead on each missile, 14
Trident submarines with 24 missiles on each submarine and 5 warheads on each missile, 76 B-52
bombers, and 21 B-2 bombers. The Air Force was to eliminate 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs and

14 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, The Legacy of START and
Related U.S. Policies
, Fact Sheet, Washington, DC, July 16, 2009, http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/126119.htm.
15 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2015,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March
2015. http://bos.sagepub.com/content/71/2/107.full.pdf+html.
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reorient the B-1 bombers to nonnuclear missions; the Navy would retire 4 Trident submarines (it
later decided to convert these submarines to carry conventional weapons).
The START II Treaty never entered into force, and Congress prevented the Clinton
Administration from reducing U.S. forces unilaterally to START II limits. Nevertheless, the Navy
and Air Force continued to plan for the forces described above, and eventually implemented those
changes. Table 1 displays the forces the United States had deployed in 2001, after completing the
START I reductions. It also includes those that it would have deployed under START II, in
accordance with the 1994 decisions.
Table 1. U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces Under START I and START II
Deployed under START I (2001)
Planned for START II (2003)
Accountable
Accountable
System
Launchers
Warheadsa
Launchers
Warheads
Minuteman III ICBMs
500
1,200
500
500
Peacekeeper ICBMs
50
500
0
0
Trident I Missiles
168
1,008
0
0
Trident II Missiles
264
2,112
336
1,680
B-52 H Bombers (ALCM)
97
970
76
940
B-52 H Bombers (non-
47
47
0
0
ALCM)
B-1 Bombersb
90
90
0
0
B-2 Bombers
20
20
21
336
Total
1,237
5,948
933
3,456
Source: U.S. Department of State and CRS estimates.
a. Under START I, bombers that are not equipped to carry ALCMs count as one warhead, even if they can
carry up 16 nuclear bombs; bombers that are equipped to carry ALCMs count as 10 warheads, even if they
can carry up to 20 ALCMs.
b. Although they stil counted under START I, B-1 bombers are no longer equipped for nuclear missions.
The George W. Bush Administration stated in late 2001 that the United States would reduce its
strategic nuclear forces to 1,700-2,200 “operationally deployed warheads” over the next decade.16
This goal was codified in the 2002 Moscow Treaty. According to the Bush Administration,
operationally deployed warheads were those deployed on missiles and stored near bombers on a
day-to-day basis. They are the warheads that would be available immediately, or in a matter of
days, to meet “immediate and unexpected contingencies.”17 The Administration also indicated
that the United States would retain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers for the
foreseeable future. It did not, however, offer a rationale for this traditional “triad,” although the
points raised in the past about the differing and complementary capabilities of the systems
probably still pertain. Admiral James Ellis, the former Commander of the U.S. Strategic
Command (STRATCOM), highlighted this when he noted in a 2005 interview that the ICBM

16 President Bush announced the U.S. intention to reduce its forces on November 13, 2001, during a summit with
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The United States and Russia codified these reductions in a Treaty signed in May
2002. See CRS Report RL31448, Nuclear Arms Control: The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, by Amy F. Woolf.
17 U.S. Senate. Committee on Armed Services. Statement of the Honorable Douglas J. Feith, Under Secretary of
Defense For Policy. February 14, 2002.
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force provides responsiveness, the SLBM force provides survivability, and bombers provide
flexibility and recall capability.18
The Bush Administration did not specify how it would reduce the U.S. arsenal from around 6,000
warheads to the lower level of 2,200 operationally deployed warheads, although it did identify
some force structure changes that would account for part of the reductions. Specifically, after
Congress removed its restrictions,19 the United States eliminated the 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs,
reducing by 500 the total number of operationally deployed ICBM warheads. It also continued
with plans to remove four Trident submarines from service, and converted those ships to carry
nonnuclear guided missiles. These submarines would have counted as 476 warheads under the
START Treaty’s rules. These changes reduced U.S. forces to around 5,000 warheads on 950
delivery vehicles in 2006; this reduction appears in Figure 2. The Bush Administration also noted
that two of the Trident submarines remaining in the fleet would be in overhaul at any given time.
The warheads that could be carried on those submarines would not count against the Moscow
Treaty limits because they would not be “operationally deployed.” This would further reduce the
U.S. deployed force by 200 to 400 warheads.
The Bush Administration, through the 2005 Strategic Capabilities Assessment and 2006
Quadrennial Defense Review, announced additional changes in U.S. ICBMs, SLBMs, and
bomber forces; these included the elimination of 50 Minuteman III missiles and several hundred
air-launched cruise missiles. (These are discussed in more detail below.) These changes appeared
to be sufficient to reduce the number of operationally deployed warheads enough to meet the
treaty limit of 2,200 warheads, as the United States announced, in mid-2009, that it had met this
limit. Reaching this level, however, also depends on the number of warheads carried by each of
the remaining Trident and Minuteman missiles.20
Current and Future Force Structure and Size
The Obama Administration indicated in the 2010 NPR that the United States would retain a triad
of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers as the United States reduced its forces to the limits in the
2010 New START Treaty. The NPR indicated that the unique characteristics of each leg of the
triad were important to the goal of maintaining strategic stability at reduced numbers of
warheads:
Each leg of the Triad has advantages that warrant retaining all three legs at this stage of
reductions. Strategic nuclear submarines (SSBNs) and the SLBMs they carry represent the
most survivable leg of the U.S. nuclear Triad…. Single-warhead ICBMs contribute to
stability, and like SLBMs are not vulnerable to air defenses. Unlike ICBMs and SLBMs,
bombers can be visibly deployed forward, as a signal in crisis to strengthen deterrence of
potential adversaries and assurance of allies and partners.21

18 Hebert, Adam. The Future Missile Force. Air Force Magazine. October 2005.
19 Beginning in FY1996, and continuing through the end of the Clinton Administration, Congress had prohibited the
use of any DOD funds for the elimination of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, below START I levels, until START II
entered into force. See, for example, the FY1998 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 105-85, §1302). Congress lifted this
restriction in the FY2002 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 107-107, §1031).
20 “U.S. Meets Moscow Nuclear Reduction Commitment Three Years Early,” Global Security Newswire, February 11,
2009.
21 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, April 6, 2010, p. 22, https://dod.defense.gov/
Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.
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Moreover, the 2010 NPR noted that “retaining sufficient force structure in each leg to allow the
ability to hedge effectively by shifting weight from one Triad leg to another if necessary due to
unexpected technological problems or operational vulnerabilities.”22
The Obama Administration continued to support the triad, even as it reduced U.S. nuclear forces
under New START and considered whether to reduce U.S. nuclear forces further in the coming
years. In April 2013, Madelyn Creedon, then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global
Security Affairs, stated, “The 2010 nuclear posture review concluded that the United States will
maintain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear capable heavy bombers. And the president‘s F.Y.
‘14 budget request supports modernization of these nuclear forces.”23 Further, in its report on the
Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States, released in June 2013, DOD stated that the
United States would maintain a nuclear triad, because this is the best way to “maintain strategic
stability at reasonable cost, while hedging against potential technical problems or
vulnerabilities.”24
Table 2. U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces under New START
(Estimated Forces prior to and planned under New START Forces)
Estimated Forces, 2010
2014 Plan for Forces Under New STARTa
Total
Deployed

Launchers
Warheads
Launchers
Launchers
Warheads
Minuteman III
450
500
454
400
400
Trident
336
1,152
280
240
1,090
B-52
76
300
46
42
42
B-2
18
200
20
18
18
Total
880
2,152
800
700
1,550
Source: U.S. Department of Defense, Report on Plan to Implement the Nuclear Force Reductions, Limitations,
and Verification, Washington, DC, April 8, 2014.
a. Under this force the United States would retain 14 Trident submarines with 2 in overhaul. In accordance
with the terms of New START, the United States would eliminate 4 launchers on each submarine, so that
each counts as only 20 launchers. The United States would also retain all 450 Minuteman III launchers,
although only 400 would hold deployed missiles.
On April 8, 2014, the Obama Administration released a report detailing the force structure that the
United States would deploy under New START. The report indicated that, although the reductions
would be complete by the treaty deadline of February 5, 2018, most of the reductions would come
late in the treaty implementation period so that the plans could change, if necessary. Table 2,
above, displays this force structure and compares it with estimates of U.S. operational strategic
nuclear forces in 2010, prior to New START’s entry into force. This force structure is consistent
with the statements and adjustments the Administration has made about deploying all Minuteman
III missiles with a single warhead, retaining Trident submarines deployed in two oceans, and
converting some number of heavy bombers to conventional-only missions.

22 Ibid., p. 20.
23 U.S. Congress, House Armed Forces, Strategic Forces, Hearing on the Proposed Fiscal 2014 Defense Authorization
as it Relates to Atomic Energy Defense Activities, 113th Cong., 1st sess., May 9, 2013.
24 Department of Defense, Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States, Washington, DC, June 2013,
p. 5, https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a590745.pdf.
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The Trump Administration has continued to adjust the U.S. nuclear force to meet this planned
force structure. When the treaty reductions were completed in February 2018, the U.S.
Department of State reported that the United States had 1,350 warheads on 652 deployed ICBMs,
SLBMs, and heavy bombers, within a total of 800 deployed and nondeployed ICBMs, SLBMs,
and heavy bombers.25 It updated these totals on September 1, 2020, at which time the United
States had 1,457 warheads on 675 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, within a total
of 800 deployed and nondeployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.26 These totals likely
exclude one or two Ohio-class submarines that undergoing short-term maintenance; if these were
counted in the active force, the number of deployed launchers and deployed warheads is likely
reach the New START limits of 700 and 1,550, respectively. Moreover, the 2018 Nuclear Posture
Review (NPR) notes that New START will remain in effect through 2021, and that the United
States will continue to implement it through that date.27 The NPR also notes that the treaty can be
extended for up to five years, through 2026, but United States and Russia have not yet agreed to
an extension. The NPR did not offer any indications of how long the United States would retain a
force structure consistent with New START after 2021 or whether the United States would seek to
increase or reduce its deployed forces if New START expires.
At the same time, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the nuclear
triad and to the modernization programs for each of the components of that force structure. It
notes that “the triad’s synergy and overlapping attributes help ensure the enduring survivability of
our deterrence capabilities against attack and our capacity to hold a range of adversary targets at
risk throughout a crisis or conflict. Eliminating any leg of the triad would greatly ease adversary
attack planning and allow an adversary to concentrate resources and attention on defeating the
remaining two legs.”28
Strategic Nuclear Delivery Vehicles: Post-Cold War
Reductions and Current Modernization Programs

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)
Peacekeeper (MX)
In the late 1980s, the United States deployed 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs, each with 10 warheads, at
silos that had held Minuteman missiles at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. The 1993
START II Treaty would have banned multiple warhead ICBMs, so the United States would have
had to eliminate these missiles while implementing the treaty. Therefore, the Pentagon began
planning for their elimination, and the Air Force added funds to its budget for this purpose in
1994. However, beginning in FY1998, Congress prohibited the Clinton Administration from

25 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of State, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, New START
Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Forces, Fact Sheet, Washington, DC, https://www.state.gov/t/avc/
newstart/278775.htm.
26 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of State, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, New START
Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Forces, Fact Sheet, Washington, DC, https://www.state.gov/new-
start-treaty-aggregate-numbers-of-strategic-offensive-arms-15/.
27 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, p. 73,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
28 Ibid., p. 43.
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spending any money on the deactivation or retirement of these missiles until START II entered
into force. The Bush Administration requested $14 million in FY2002 to begin the missiles’
retirement; Congress lifted the restriction and authorized the funding. The Air Force began to
deactivate the missiles in October 2002, and completed the process, having removed all the
missiles from their silos, in September 2005. The MK21 reentry vehicles and W87 warheads from
these missiles were placed in storage. As is noted below, the Air Force redeployed some of these
warheads and reentry vehicles on Minuteman III missiles, under the Safety Enhanced Reentry
Vehicle (SERV) program.
Under the terms of the original, 1991 START Treaty, the United States would have had to
eliminate the Peacekeeper missile silos to remove the warheads on the missiles from
accountability under the treaty limits. However, the Air Force retained the silos as it deactivated
the missiles. Therefore, the warheads that were deployed on the Peacekeeper missiles still
counted under START, even though the missiles were no longer operational, until START expired
in December 2009. The United States did not, however, count any of these warheads under the
limits in the Moscow Treaty. The United States has eliminated the empty launchers so that they
do not count under the New START Treaty, although it did not, have to blow up or excavate the
silos, as it would have had to do under the original START Treaty. The Air Force filled the silos
with gravel, and completed the elimination process in February 2015.
Minuteman III
The U.S. Minuteman III ICBMs are located at three Air Force bases—F.E. Warren AFB in
Wyoming, Malmstrom AFB in Montana, and Minot AFB in North Dakota. Each base supports
150 missile silos, but only 400 of the 450 silos currently hold operational missiles.
Force Structure Changes
In the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the Pentagon indicated that it planned to
“reduce the number of deployed Minuteman III ballistic missiles from 500 to 450, beginning in
Fiscal Year 2007.”29 The Air Force deactivated the missiles in Malmstrom’s 564th Missile
Squadron, which was known as the “odd squad.”30 This designation reflected that the launch
control facilities for these missiles were built and installed by General Electric, while all other
Minuteman launch control facilities were built by Boeing; as a result, these missiles used a
different communications and launch control system than all the other Minuteman missiles.
According to Air Force Space Command, the drawdown began on July 1, 2007. All of the reentry
vehicles were removed from the missiles in early 2008, the missiles were all removed from their
silos by the end of July 2008, and the squadron was deactivated by the end of August 2008.31
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Cartwright stated that the Air
Force had decided to retire these missiles so that they could serve as test assets for the remaining
force. He noted that the Air Force had to “keep a robust test program all the way through the life
of the program.”32 With the test assets available before this decision, the test program would
begin to run short around 2017 or 2018. The added test assets would support the program through

29 Department of Defense. Report of the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review. Washington, DC. February 2006. p. 50.
30 Johnson, Peter. Growth Worries Base Boosters. Great Falls Tribune. January 19, 2006.
31 Global Security Newswire. U.S. Deactivates 50 Strategic Missiles. August 4, 2008.
32 U.S. Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Hearing on Global Strike Plans and Programs. Testimony of James E.
Cartwright, Commander U.S. Strategic Command. March 29, 2006.
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2025 or longer. This time line, however, raised questions about why the Air Force pressed to
begin retiring the missiles in FY2007, 10 years before it would run out of test assets. Some
speculated that the elimination of the 50 missiles was intended to reduce the long-term operations
and maintenance costs for the fleet, particularly since the 564th Squadron used different ground
control technologies and training systems than the remainder of the fleet. This option was not
likely, however, to produce budgetary savings in the near term as the added cost of deactivating
the missiles could exceed the reductions in operations and maintenance expenses.33 In addition, to
use these missiles as test assets, the Air Force has had to include them in the modernization
programs described below. This has further limited the budgetary savings.
When the Air Force decided to retire 50 ICBMs at Malmstrom, it indicated that it would retain the
silos and would not destroy or eliminate them. However, with the signing of the New START
Treaty in 2010, these silos added to the U.S. total of nondeployed ICBM launchers. The Air Force
eliminated them in 2014, by filling them with gravel, so that the United States could comply with
the New START limits by 2018.
Some in Congress questioned the Administration’s rationale for the plan to retire 50 Minuteman
missiles, indicating that it believed that more Minuteman silos increased U.S. security and
strengthened deterrence. In the FY2007 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5122, §139), Congress
stated that DOD could not spend any money to begin the withdrawal of these missiles from the
active force until the Secretary of Defense submitted a report that addressed a number of issues,
including (1) a detailed justification for the proposal to reduce the force from 500 to 450 missiles;
(2) a detailed analysis of the strategic ramifications of continuing to equip a portion of the force
with multiple independent warheads rather than single warheads; (3) an assessment of the test
assets and spares required to maintain a force of 500 missiles and a force of 450 missiles through
2030; (4) an assessment of whether halting upgrades to the missiles withdrawn from the deployed
force would compromise their ability to serve as test assets; and (5) a description of the plan for
extending the life of the Minuteman III missile force beyond FY2030. The Secretary of Defense
submitted this report to Congress in late March 2007.
The question of how many ICBM silos were needed to ensure deterrence returned after the
United States signed the New START Treaty. During 2012 and 2013, Congress sought to prevent
the Administration from initiating an environmental assessment that would advise the possible
elimination of up to 50 silos under New START. In addition, the House Armed Services
Committee included a provision in its version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act
(H.R. 4435, §1634) that would require the Air Force to retain all 450 ICBM silos, regardless of
future force structure requirements, budgets, or arms control limits, through 2015. The provision
stated that “it is in the national security interests of the United States to retain the maximum
number of land-based strategic missile silos and their associated infrastructure to ensure that
billions of dollars in prior taxpayer investments for such silos and infrastructure are not lost
through precipitous actions which may be budget-driven, cyclical, and not in the long-term
strategic interests of the United States.” It required that the Secretary of Defense “preserve each
intercontinental ballistic missile silo ... in warm status that enables such silo to—(1) remain a
fully functioning element of the interconnected and redundant command and control system of
the missile field; and (2) be made fully operational with a deployed missile.”
The Air Force has continued to conduct flight tests of the Minuteman III missiles. The live
launches use missiles pulled from operational wings at Minot Air Force Base and Malmstrom Air
Force Base. During these tests, the missiles fly from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and

33 Private communication.
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deliver a single unarmed warhead to an impact point 4,200 miles (6,759 km) away in the
Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.34 While most occur without incident, the Air Force
terminated a test in late July 2018 due to an unspecified “anomaly.”35
In the April 2014 report on its planned force structure under New START, the Obama
Administration indicated that it planned to retain 400 deployed Minuteman III ICBMs, within a
total force of 450 deployed and nondeployed launchers. According to Air Force officials, this
option would allow the Air Force to deactivate missiles in silos that have been damaged by water
intrusion, repair those silos, and possibly return missiles to them at a later date while it repaired
additional silos. If it had eliminated some of the empty silos, it would have had to do so in
complete squadrons, regardless of the silos’ conditions, and would not have been able to empty
and repair the most degraded silos.36 Congress has also weighed in on this force structure, again
arguing that U.S. security would benefit from the retention of more operational ICBM launchers,
even if they did not contain operational missiles.
The Air Force began to implement this plan in 2013 and, according to the data exchanged under
the New START Treaty, had completed the reductions by early June 2017. It now has 400 silos
loaded with operational missiles.37
Warhead Plans
Each Minuteman III missile was initially deployed with 3 warheads, for a total of 1,500 warheads
across the force. In 2001, to meet the START limit of 6,000 warheads, the United States removed
2 warheads from each of the 150 Minuteman missiles at F.E. Warren AFB,38 reducing the
Minuteman III force to 1,200 total warheads. In the process, the Air Force also removed and
destroyed the “bulkhead,” the platform on the reentry vehicle, so that, in accordance with START
rules, these missiles can no longer carry three warheads.
Under START II, the United States would have had to download all the Minuteman III missiles to
one warhead each. Although the Bush Administration initially endorsed the plan to download all
Minuteman ICBMs, this plan apparently changed. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services
Committee in 2006, General Cartwright, who was then the Commander of STRATCOM,
indicated that some Minuteman missiles might carry more than one warhead. Specifically, when
discussing the reduction from 500 to 450 missiles, he said, “this is not a reduction in the number
of warheads deployed. They will just merely be re-distributed on the missiles.”39 Major General
Deppe confirmed that the Air Force would retain some Minuteman III missiles with more than

34 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January
2017, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2016.1264213.
35 “Unarmed US missile test flight terminated due to anomaly,” Defense News, July 31, 2018.
https://www.defensenews.com/space/2018/07/31/unarmed-us-missile-test-flight-terminated-due-to-anomaly/.
36 Gabe Starosta, “On New START, Timing Begins to Limit Force-Structure Alternatives,” InsideDefense.com, May
14, 2013.
37 Captain Esther Willet, 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs, “AF Meets New START Treaty Requirements,” June 28,
2017, http://www.afgsc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1234307/af-meets-new-start-requirements/.
38 See Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen. U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2016. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
January/February 2006.
39 See, U.S. Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Hearing on Global Strike Plans and Programs. Testimony of James
E. Cartwright, Commander U.S. Strategic Command. March 29, 2006.
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one warhead when he noted, in a speech in mid-April 2007, that the remaining 450 Minuteman III
missiles could be deployed with one, two, or three warheads.40
In the 2010 NPR, the Obama Administration indicated that, under the New START Treaty, all of
the U.S. Minuteman III missiles would carry only one warhead. It indicated that this
configuration would “enhance the stability of the nuclear balance by reducing incentives for
either side to strike first.”41 The Air Force completed the downloading process, leaving all
Minuteman III missiles with a single warhead, on June 16, 2014.42 The 2018 Nuclear Posture
Review reaffirmed this deployment, with each Minuteman III missile deployed with one warhead
under the New START Treaty.
Unlike under START, the United States did not have to alter the front end of the missile or
remove the old bulkhead. As a result, the United States could restore warheads to its ICBM force
if the international security environment changed. Moreover, this plan could have changed, if, in
an effort to reduce the cost of the ICBM force under New START, the Administration had decided
to reduce the number of Minuteman III missiles further in the coming years. Reports indicate that
the Pentagon may have reviewed such an option as a part of its NPR implementation study, but,
as the report released on April 8, 2014, indicated, it did not decide to pursue this approach. As a
result, under New START, each of the 400 deployed Minuteman III missiles now carries a single
warhead.43
Minuteman Modernization Programs
Over the past 20 years, the Air Force pursued several programs that were designed to improve the
accuracy and reliability of the Minuteman fleet and to “support the operational capability of the
Minuteman ICBM through 2030.” According to some estimates, this effort has cost $6 billion-$7
billion.44 This section describes several of the key programs in this effort.
Propulsion Replacement Program (PRP)
This program, which began in 1998, replaced the propellant, the solid rocket fuel, in the
Minuteman motors to extend the life of the rocket motors. A consortium led by Northrup
Grumman poured the new fuel into the first and second stages and remanufactured the third
stages of the missiles. According to the Air Force, as of early August, 2007, 325 missiles, or 72%
of the fleet, had completed the PRP program; this number increased to around 80% by mid-2008.
The Air Force purchased the final 56 booster sets, for a total of 601, with its funding in FY2008.
Funding in FY2009 supported the assembly of the remaining boosters. The Air Force completed
the PRP program in 2013.45 In the FY2007 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 109-364) and the

40 Sirak, Michael. Air Force Prepared To Draw Down Minuteman III Fleet by 50 Missiles. Defense Daily. April 17,
2007.
41 Single-warhead ICBMs are considered to be stabilizing because it would take two attacking warheads to destroy the
silo. If each side has approximately the same number of warheads, than an attack on a single warhead missile would
cost more warheads than it would kill, and, therefore, would not be considered to be lucrative.
42 Jenn Rowell, “Last Malmstron ICBM Reconfigured Under Treaty,” Great Falls Tribune, June 18, 2014.
43 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, p. 45,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
44 Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen. U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2006. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
January/February 2006.
45 Sirak, Michael. Minuteman Fleet has Life Beyond 2020, Says Senior Air Force Space Official. Defense Daily. June
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FY2007 Defense Appropriations Act (P.L. 109-289), the 109th Congress indicated that it would
not support efforts to end this program early. However, in its budget request for FY2010, the Air
Force indicated that FY2009 was the last year for funding for the program, as the program was
nearing completion.
Guidance Replacement Program (GRP)
The Guidance Replacement Program extended the service life of the Minuteman missiles’
guidance set, and improved the maintainability and reliability of guidance sets. It replaced aging
parts with more modern and reliable technologies, while maintaining the accuracy of the
missiles.46 Flight testing for the new system began in 1998, and, at the time, it exceeded its
operational requirements. Production began in 2000, and the Air Force purchased 652 of the new
guidance units. Press reports indicate that the system had some problems with accuracy during its
testing program.47 The Air Force eventually identified and corrected the problems in 2002 and
2003. According to the Air Force, 425 Minuteman III missiles were upgraded with the new
guidance packages as of early August 2007. The Air Force had been taking delivery of 5 to 7 new
guidance units each month, for a total of 652 units. Boeing reported that it had delivered the final
guidance set in early February 2009. The Air Force did not request any additional funding for this
program in FY2010. However, it did request $1.2 million in FY2011 and $0.6 million in FY2012
to complete the program. It has not requested additional funding in subsequent years.
Propulsion System Rocket Engine Program (PSRE)
According to the Air Force, the Propulsion System Rocket Engine (PSRE) program was designed
to rebuild and replace Minuteman postboost propulsion system components that were produced in
the 1970s. The Air Force replaced, rather than repaired this system because original replacement
parts, materials, and components were no longer available. This program was designed to reduce
the life-cycle costs of the Minuteman missiles and maintain their reliability through 2020. The Air
Force planned to purchase a total of 574 units for this program. Through FY2009, the Air Force
had purchased 441 units, at a cost of $128 million. It requested an additional $26.2 million to
purchase another 96 units in FY2010 and $21.5 million to purchase 37 units in FY2011. This
completed the purchase of the units. As a result, the budget for FY2012 did not support the
purchase of any additional units, but included $26.1 million for continuing work installing the
units. The FY2013 budget request contained $10.8 million for the same purpose. The Air Force
has not requested additional funding in subsequent years.
Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting (REACT) Service Life Extension Program
The REACT targeting system was first installed in Minuteman launch control centers in the mid-
1990s. This technology allowed for a significant reduction in the amount of time it would take to
retarget the missiles, automated routine functions to reduce the workload for the crews, and
replaced obsolete equipment.48 In 2006, the Air Force began to deploy a modernized version of
this system to extend its service life and to update the command and control capability of the
launch control centers. This program will allow for more rapid retargeting of ICBMs, a capability

14, 2006.
46 LGM Minuteman III Modernization. Globalsecurity.org.
47 Donnelly, John M. Air Force Defends Spending Half A Billion on Iffy ICBMs. Defense Week. September 10, 2001.
p. 1.
48 LGM Minuteman III Modernization. Globalsecurity.org.
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identified in the Nuclear Posture Review as essential to the future nuclear force. The Air Force
completed this effort in late 2006.
Safety Enhanced Reentry Vehicle (SERV)
As was noted above, under the SERV program, the Air Force planned to deploy MK21/W-87
reentry vehicles removed from Peacekeeper ICBMs on the Minuteman missiles, replacing the
older MK12/W62 and MK12A/W78 reentry vehicles. To do this, the Air Force modified the
software, changed the mounting on the missile, and changed the support equipment. According to
Air Force Space Command, the SERV program conducted three flight tests in 2005 and cancelled
a fourth test because the first three were so successful.49 The Air Force installed 20 of the kits for
the new reentry vehicles on the Minuteman missiles at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in 2006. The
process began at Malmstrom in July 2007 and at Minot in July 2008. The Air Force purchased an
additional 111 modification kits in FY2009, for a total of 570 kits. This was the last year that it
planned to request funding for the program. It completed the installation process by 2012.
This program is expected to ensure the reliability and effectiveness of the Minuteman III missiles
throughout their planned deployments. The W-87 warheads entered the U.S. arsenal in 1986 and
were refurbished in 2005. This process extended their service life past 2025.50 As noted below, the
National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has initiated a life extension program for the
W78 warhead, now known as the W87-1, to outfit the new Ground-based Strategic Deterrent
(GBSD) that will replace the Minuteman III missile after 2030.
Solid Rocket Motor Warm Line Program
In the FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Congress approved a new program known as the
Solid Rocket Motor Warm Line Program. According to Air Force budget documents, this program
was intended to “sustain and maintain the unique manufacturing and engineering infrastructure
necessary to preserve the Minuteman III solid rocket motor production capability” by providing
funding to maintain a low rate of production of motors each year.51 The program received $42.9
million in FY2010 and produced motors for four Minuteman ICBMs. DOD requested $44.2
million to produce motors for three additional ICBMs in FY2011. The budget request for FY2012
includes an additional $34 million to complete work on the motors purchased in prior years. The
FY2013 budget did not contain any additional funding for this program area, although the Air
Force continues to support the solid rocket motor production base with work funded through its
Dem/Val program (described below).
ICBM Fuze Modernization
According to DOD budget documents, the ICBM fuze modernization program “is developing a
form, fit and functionally equivalent replacement for the MK21 fuze” to “meet warfighter
requirements and maintain current capability through 2030.” This program is needed because the
current fuzes have long exceeded their original 10-year life span and the Strategic Command
(STRATCOM) does not have enough fuzes available to meet its requirements. According to
DOD, the Air force had initially expected to procure around 700 modernized fuzes for the
Minuteman fleet. But the new fuzes will also be deployed on the missile that will eventually

49 Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, Vice Commander, Air Force Space Command. Transcript of Speech to the National
Defense University Breakfast. June 13, 2006.
50 Tom Collina, Fact Sheet: U.S. Nuclear Modernization, Arms Control Association, Washington, DC, January 5, 2009,
http://www.armscontrol.org/USNuclearModernization.
51 http://www.saffm.hq.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-100128-067.pdf.
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replace the Minuteman system—the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), which is
discussed in more detail below—eventually leading to a much larger program as the Air Force
plans to acquire nearly 650 new missiles.
According to the Air Force FY2020 budget request, “the Mk21 reentry vehicle and fuze will be
deployed on the current Minuteman III (MM III) and future Ground Based Strategic Deterrent
(GBSD).” In prior years, the budget documents had noted that the program would also “support
of the modernization of a fuze used on submarine-launched ballistic missiles,” but the FY2020
budget request notes that NNSA is no longer pursuing the plan for a combined W78/88-1 Life
Extension Program.
The ICBM fuze modernization program has grown in recent years, from $57.9 million in FY2015
to $142 million in FY2016, $189.8 million in FY2017, $179 million in FY2018, and $172.9
million in FY2019. The Air Force requested, and Congress authorized, $161.2 million for
FY2020 (P.L. 116-92). The Air Force budget documents for FY2020 show that the Air Force
planned to fund the program at $133 million in FY2021, with the program then decreasing to $60
million in FY2022 and $2 million in FY2023 and FY2024. However, in October 2019, the Air
Force indicated that the program would face delays due to technical issues with the systems
capacitors.52 Consequently, in its budget request for FY2021, the Air Force has indicated that the
program requires “a program rebaseline due to capacitor redesign issues and funding limitations
in FY19 and FY20.” It requested $167 million for FY2021 and noted that “the funding profile
needs for FY22 and beyond will be addressed in future budget submissions.”
ICBM Dem/Val Program
The Air Force has also funded, through its RDT&E budget, a number of programs under the
ICBM Dem/Val (demonstration and validation) title that are expected to allow it to mature
technologies that might support both the existing Minuteman fleet and the future ICBM program
(known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent). Congress appropriated $72.9 million for these
programs in FY2014, $30.9 million in FY2015, $39.8 million in FY2016, and 108.7 million for
FY2017.
With the FY2017 budget request, the Air Force moved this program element into the program
element for the ground-based strategic deterrent. Hence, although these projects are designed to
support both the Minuteman force and the future force, they will likely begin to focus more
specifically on the needs of the new missile. In its FY2018 budget request, the Air Force sought
only $10.7 million for the Dem/Val program. This represents a significant reduction from the
FY2017 level and from the FY2018 funding anticipated in the FY2017 budget documents. The
Air Force notes, in its FY2018 budget documents, that the FY2018 funding “reflected a
realignment of $61.868M to higher Air Force priorities.” When asked about this realignment, Air
Force Vice Chief of Staff General Stephen Wilson noted that it was not a sign of waning support
for the nuclear weapons modernization programs in the Air Force, but was specific to issues
affecting only that program.53 The Air Force requested $41.9 million for this program area in the
FY2019 budget; Congress provided $32.3 million. The Air Force requested $44 million for this
program area in FY2020; Congress provided this amount in the FY2020 National Defense

52 This is the same capacitor that, as described below, is likely to cause delays in the W88-Alt and B61-12 warhead life
extension programs. Sara Sirota, “NNSA technical issues cause rebaselining of $2 billion ICBM fuze modernization
program,” Inside Defense, October 24, 2019.
53 Rachal Karas, “Air Force Moving Money From B61, ICBM Upgrades to Fund ‘Higher Priorities,’” Inside Defense,
May 26, 2017.
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Authorization Act (P.L. 116-92). The Air Force requested, and Congress authorized, $33 million
for this program area in its FY2021 budget.
The projects funded through the Dem/Val program area include ICBM guidance applications,
ICBM propulsion applications, reentry vehicle applications, and command and control
applications. In the area of guidance applications, DOD is seeking to “identify, develop, analyze,
and evaluate advanced strategic guidance technologies, such as a new solid-state guidance
system, for the ICBM fleet.”54 This new system would increase the accuracy of the ICBM force
and allow the missiles to destroy hardened targets with a single warhead. However, recent press
reports question whether this program is meeting the needs outlined by the Air Force and whether
it will produce guidance technologies that can provide the needed increases in ICBM accuracy.55
In the area of propulsion applications, DOD is, among other things, “exploring improvements
and/or alternatives to current propulsion systems.” This program area is specifically seeking to
support the solid rocket motor research and development industrial base, so that it will have the
capacity to support the ICBM force when the Air Force begins the procurement of its new
ground-based strategic deterrent. In the area of reentry vehicle applications, DOD is seeking to
both support reentry systems beyond their original design life and develop and test advanced
technologies to meet future requirements. The area of command and control applications
“evaluates and develops assured, survivable, and secure communications and battlespace
awareness.” It is focusing on both skills and technologies needed to meet current and future
requirements.
Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD)
In 2002, the Air Force began to explore its options for a new missile to replace the Minuteman III,
with the intent to begin deploying a new missile in 2018. It reportedly produced a “mission needs
statement” at that time, and then began an Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) in 2004.56 In June
2006, General Frank Klotz indicated that, after completing the AOA, Air Force Space Command
had decided to recommend “an evolutionary approach to the replacement of the Minuteman III
capability,”57 which would continue to modernize the components of the existing missiles rather
than begin from scratch to develop and produce new missiles. He indicated that Space Command
supported this approach because it would be less costly than designing a new system “from
scratch.”
With this plan in place, the Air Force began examining the investments that might be needed to
sustain the Minuteman force through 2030. According to General Robert Kehler, then
Commander-in-Chief of STRATCOM, the missile should be viable throughout that time.58 In

54 Elaine Grossman, “Key Targeting Tech for Future U.S. Nuclear Missile has Gone Unfunded,” Nextgov.com, August
19, 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/02/17/top-secret-u-s-nuke-war-plans-thwarted.html.
55 Elaine M. Grossman, “Top Secret U.S., Nuke War Plans Thwarted,” The Daily Beast, February 17, 2016.
56 Selinger, Mark. Minuteman Replacement Study Expected to Begin Soon. Aerospace Daily and Defense Report. June
25, 2004.
57 Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, Vice Commander, Air Force Space Command. Transcript of Speech to the National
Defense University Breakfast. June 13, 2006.
58 Jason Simpson, “Kehler: Air Force Investigating Minuteman III Follow-On System,” Inside the Air Force, October
8, 2009. See, also, Jason Simpson, “Testers See no Problems With Minuteman III Missiles Lasting to 2030,” Inside the
Air Force,
September 4, 2009.
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addition, according to DOD officials, flight tests and surveillance programs should provide the
Air Force with “better estimates for component age-out and system end-of-life timelines.”59
At the same time, the Air Force has begun to consider what a follow-on system to the Minuteman
III might look like for the timeframe after 2030. The Air Force began a capabilities-based
assessment of its land-based deterrent in early 2011 and began a new Analysis of Alternatives
(AOA) for the ICBM force in 2012 with completion expected in mid-2014.60 According to the Air
Force, it requested $2.6 million to begin the study in the FY2012 budget. The FY2013 budget
request included $11.7 million for a new project area known as Ground-based Strategic
Deterrence (GBSD). According to the Air Force, this effort, which was previously funded under
Long-Range Planning, included funding to begin the Analysis of Alternatives (AOA). The
FY2014 budget request included $9.4 million to continue this study.
In early January 2013, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center issued a “Broad Agency
Announcement (BAA)” seeking white papers for concepts “that address modernization or
replacement of the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad.” The papers produced as a part of this
study served as an early evaluation of alternatives for the future of the ICBM force, and may have
helped select those concepts that will be included in the formal Analysis of Alternatives.
According to the BAA, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center created five possible paths for
further analysis. These include one that would continue to use the current Minuteman III baseline
until 2075 without seeking to close gaps in the missiles’ capabilities, one that would incorporate
incremental changes into the current Minuteman III system to close gaps in capabilities, one that
would design a new, fixed ICBM system to replace the Minuteman III, one that would design a
new mobile ICBM system, and one that would design a new tunnel-based system.
Some analysts expressed surprise at the possibility that the Air Force would consider deploying a
new ICBM on mobile launchers or in tunnels. During the Cold War, the Air Force considered
these types of deployment concepts as a way to increase the survivability of the ICBM force
when faced with the possibility of an attack with hundreds, or thousands, of Soviet warheads.
Even during the Cold War, these concepts proved to be very expensive and impractical, and they
were dropped from consideration after the demise of the Soviet Union and in the face of deep
reductions in the numbers of U.S. and Russian warheads. Some analysts saw the Air Force’s
possible renewed interest in these concepts as a step backward; they argued that the United States
should consider retiring its ICBM force, and should not consider new, expensive schemes to
increase the missiles’ capabilities. Others, however, noted that the presence of these concepts in
the study did not mean that the Air Force would move in this direction. They noted that the 2010
NPR mentioned the possibility of mobile basing for ICBMs as a way to increase warning and
decision time, so it should not be a surprise to see requests for further study. However, the cost
and complexity of mobile ICBM basing has, again, eliminated these concepts from further
consideration.
According to press reports, this AOA was completed in 2014 and briefed to industry officials in
July 2014. The Air Force had reportedly decided to pursue a “hybrid” plan for the next generation
ICBM. It would maintain the basic design of the missile, the current communications system, and
the existing launch silos, but would replace the rocket motors, guidance sets, postboost vehicles,

59 See the prepared statement of Assistant Secretary of Defense Madelyn Creedon, U.S. Congress, House Armed
Forces, Strategic Forces, Hearing on the Proposed Fiscal 2014 Defense Authorization as it Relates to Atomic Energy
Defense Activities. 113th Cong., 1st sess., May 9. 2013.
60 Department of Defense, November 2010 Update to the National Defense Authorization Act of FY2010, New START
Treaty Framework and Nuclear Force Structure Plans, Washington, DC, November 17, 2010, p. 11,
http://www.lasg.org/CMRR/Sect1251_update_17Nov2010.pdf.
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and reentry systems. Reports indicated that, although this missile would be deployed in fixed
silos, the design would allow the missiles to be deployed on mobile launchers sometime in the
future.61
However, in recent documents, the Air Force has indicated that the GBSD program “will replace
the entire flight system, retaining the silo basing mode while recapitalizing the ground facilities.”
While this seemed to indicate that there would be a greater level of effort to modernize the silos
and launch control facilities, it did not resolve questions about whether the Air Force would
continue to retain the option of deploying the missiles on mobile launchers and how much such
an option might cost. Nevertheless, there seemed to be some indications that the cost of such an
option might be prohibitive, and that the priority is on designing a new missile that would be
deployed in fixed silos, although mobile launch control facilities remain a possibility.
The Air Force received $75 million for the GBSD program in FY2016 and an additional $113
million for FY2017. It requested $215.7 million for FY2018, a reduction from the $294 million
for FY2018 expected in the FY2017 budget documents. The Air Force noted that this reduction of
$78.2 million occurred to align the program with an Independent Cost Estimate conducted by
DOD. Congress authorized $215.7 million for the GBSD in the National Defense Authorization
Act for 2018 (P.L. 115-91). The Defense Authorization Act for 2017 (P.L. 114-328) also included
a provision stating that none funds available in FY2017 or FY2018 could be “obligated or
expended to retain the option for, or develop, a mobile variant of the ground-based strategic
deterrent missile.” The NDAA for 2018 extended this prohibition through FY2019; the NDAA for
FY2019 (P.L. 115-232) extended this prohibition through 2020.
The Air Force requested $345 million for the GBSD program in FY2019. In the National Defense
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (P.L. 115-232), Congress added $69.4 million, for a total
authorization of $414.4 million for the GBSD program. The conference report (H.Rept. 115-874)
did not provide a rationale for this increase, although the report from the Senate Armed Services
Committee (S.Rept. 115-262) did note that the program was ahead of schedule and that the
committee “strongly supports the GBSD program as an integral part of the nuclear modernization
effort.” The conference report also required that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
and Sustainment, in consultation with the Secretary of the Air Force, develop and implement “a
plan to accelerate the development, procurement, and fielding” of the GBSD program. It noted
that the plan should account for the “recapitalization of the full intercontinental ballistic missile
weapon system for 400 deployed missiles and associated spares and 450 launch facilities.”
The Air Force requested $570.3 million of the GBSD program in its budget for FY2020,
consistent with the expected funding level identified in FY2019. Congress approved funding of
$552.4 million in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 116-92). The conference
report also included a provision, in Section 1671, mandating that the Secretary of Defense submit
a report to Congress that assesses “the risks and costs resulting from receiving only one bid” for
the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the GBSD program. This provision
responds to concerns about the potential for an increase in the cost of the program after Boeing
withdrew and left Northrop Grumman as the only company competing for the GBSD contract.62

61 Elaine Grossman, “Key Targeting Tech for Future U.S. Nuclear Missile has Gone Unfunded,” Nextgov.com, August
19, 2014.
62 Valerie Insinna, “Boeing could be out of the Air Force’s competition for next-gen ICBMs for good,” Defense News,
October, 21, 2019, https://www.defensenews.com/smr/nuclear-arsenal/2019/10/22/boeing-could-be-out-of-the-air-
forces-competition-for-next-gen-icbms-for-good/. See, also, Joe Gould, “House Armed Services chairman takes aim at
Air Force’s handling of ICBM replacement program,” Defense News, October 24, 2019,
https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2019/10/24/hasc-chair-takes-aim-at-air-forces-handling-of-icbm-replacement-
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The Air Force has requested $1.52 billion for the GBSD program in its FY2021 budget; Congress
authorized $1.5 billion. The Air Force budget shows that the funding will continue to increase,
growing to $2.5 billion in 2022 and $3 per year between 2023 and 2025. According to the Air
Force, these increases are “required for FY21 and beyond” to execute the Engineering &
Manufacturing Development phase of the program.
According to DOD budget documents, the Air Force is seeking to deliver “an integrated flight
system” beginning in FY2029, with booster production beginning in FY2026. In FY2017, the Air
Force awarded two contracts—one to Northrop Grumman and one to Boeing—for the
Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction (TMRR) phase of the program, which will run
through FY2020. The goals of this phase are for the contractors to deliver the preliminary design
of a “modular, integrated weapon system” and to “mature technologies related to the major
activities and demonstrate performance of sub-system capabilities through prototyping, modeling,
and simulation.” In early September 2020, the Air Force awarded a contract for $13.3 billion to
Northrup Grumman to begin the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase of the
GBSD program.63
According to press reports, the Air Force estimated, in 2015, that the program would cost a total
of $62.3 billion, in then-year dollars, over 30 years. This included $48.5 billion for the acquisition
of 642 missiles, $6.9 billion for command and control systems, and $6.9 billion to renovate the
launch control centers.64 The 642 missiles would support testing and deployment of a force of 400
missiles. Recent reports indicate that the Pentagon’s Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation
Office (CAPE) estimated that the program would cost $85 billion over that time, with $22.6
billion for research and development, $61.5 billion for procurement, and $718 million for related
military construction.65 The Air Force indicated that the $23 billion difference in estimates was
due to the fact that CAPE used different assumptions and a different methodology in its analysis,
in part, because the United States has not designed and produced long-range missiles in decades.
Normally, DOD would require that the Air Force and CAPE agree on a cost estimate before the
program could proceed, but this was not the case with the GBSD. Deborah Lee James, the
Secretary of the Air Force at the end of the Obama Administration, indicated that it could take a
year or more to refine cost estimates, based on the submissions received by defense industry as
they bid on the program.66 Press reports indicate that, after further analysis, the Air Force and
CAPE assessed in mid-2020 that the GBSD program would cost between $93.1 billion and $95.8
billion. This would support the purchase of 659 missiles, with 25 for initial testing and 634 for
400 missiles in silos, spares, and later testing,67 Press reports indicate that the system could reach

program/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBB%2010.25.19&utm_term=Editorial%20-
%20Early%20Bird%20Brief.
63 Robert Burns, “Air Force awards $13.3 billion contract for nuclear missiles,” Associated Press, September 8, 2020,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/air-force-awards-133-billion-contract-for-nuclear-missiles/
2020/09/08/e0167fb2-f22a-11ea-8025-5d3489768ac8_story.html.
64 Kingston Reif, “Air Force Drafts Plan for Follow-on ICBM,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2015.
65 Anthony Carpaccio, “America’s New Nuclear Armed Missile Could Cost $85 Billion,” Bloomberg News, September
6, 2016.
66 Aaron Mehta, “Planned ICBM Replacement To Move Forward Without Consensus,” Defense News, September 19,
2016, http://www.defensenews.com/articles/james-new-icbm-cost-question-will-not-impact-next-budget.
67 Anthony Cappacio, “U.S. ICBM to Replace 1970s-Era Minuteman May Cost $111 Billion,” Bloomberg News,
October 1, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-01/pentagon-s-next-generation-icbm-program-
may-cost-111-billion.
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its initial operational capacity, with 9 missiles on alert, by 2029 and would complete the
deployment with 400 missiles on alert in 2036.68
The Air Force also plans to modify and install new command and control systems in all 450
existing launch silos and 45 launch control facilities. Because the Air Force would need to
convert an average of one facility per week, it sought, in its FY2021 budget request, to use
research, development, test and engineering (RDT&E) and missile procurement funding—rather
than military construction funding—to cover the conversion costs. According to the Pentagon,
funding this effort through the MilCon budget would require separate budgets and planning, with
each of the separate sites planned as its own military construction case. Pentagon officials
asserted that it could reduce the risk of delays by combining them together into a single program
funded through the RDT&E budget.69 Congress, however, rejected this request in the FY2021
National Defense Authorization Act, requiring, instead, that the funding remain in the Military
Construction budget. Congress did, however, state that the Air Force could request funding with
each missile base identified as a single integrated project.
The GBSD missile will employ an “open architecture” so that technologies can be upgraded as
needed, through the expected 60-year life of the missile. According to officials at Boeing, this
modular, open architecture will help keep down the costs of maintenance and upgrades.70
Moreover, by designing a completely new system, officials believe the Air Force can acquire a
more modern, capable, and flexible system at a lower cost than needed to complete another life
extension of the Minuteman III. The new system would be “flexible for a wide range of
scenarios” and would have improved performance “against modern, precision-guided missile
defenses.”71
W87-1 Warhead
The Air Force plans to replace the W78 warhead currently carried by the Minuteman III missile
with a new warhead when it deploys the new GBSD missile. The W87-1 warhead is the third and
current iteration of this new warhead.
The W78 warhead is the oldest warhead in the U.S. stockpile, dating from 1979. The Obama
Administration outlined a plan to replace it with a new warhead, known as the IW1 (Interoperable
Warhead-1), which could have been delivered by ICBMs (in place of the W78 warhead) and
SLBMs (in place of the W88 warheads). The Obama Administration suspended work on this new
warhead in FY2016 and did not request any funding for it in the FY2017 and FY2018 budget
requests. In the FY2019 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration
(NNSA), the Trump Administration requested $53 million to resume research and development
activities on the IW1. Congress enacted this amount, but requested a study on the rationale for
and alternatives to the plan to use an interoperable warhead as a part of the W78 life extension
program.

68 Brian Bradley, “GBSD Scheduled to Reach IOC in FY'29,” Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor, August 7,
2015.
69 Aaron Mehta, “DoD seeking legislative help for ICBM replacement construction costs,” Defense News, September
25, https://www.defensenews.com/smr/nuclear-arsenal/2020/09/25/dod-seeking-legislative-help-for-icbm-replacement-
construction-costs/.
70 Stew Magnuson, “Air Force on a Long Road to Replace Minuteman III,” National Defense, July 23, 2017.
71 Sydney Freedberg Jr., “New ICBM Cheaper Than Upgraded Minuteman: Boeing on GBSD,” Breaking Defense,
August 2, 2017.
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During 2018, NNSA dropped the IW1 designator and, instead, pursued a life extension program
for just the W78 ICBM warhead. It then designated this program as the W87-1, to reflect the fact
that it has a similar primary design to the existing W87 warhead, a warhead also carried by the
Minuteman III ICBM. According to a report provided to Congress in late 2018, [NNSA] “is no
longer planning for an interoperable warhead program as previously conceived,” and no longer
plans to “pursue a W78 life-extension program using the existing aeroshell.”72 Instead, the new
warhead, like the existing W87 warhead, the warhead will use insensitive high explosives (IHE)
that meet Air Force and NNSA safety and security requirements. NNSA expects that the new
warhead will cost between $8.6 billion and $14.8 billion, before accounting for the new
plutonium pit inside the warhead.
According to the report provided to Congress, “NNSA is currently planning for the W87-1
program to include newly manufactured pits.”73 NNSA currently has only a limited capacity to
produce new plutonium pits, with that capacity located at Los Alamos National Laboratory in
New Mexico. In May 2018, NNSA announced that would pursue a new approach for plutonium
pit production to meet the requirement of producing a minimum of 80 pits per year by 2030, as
outlined in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Instead of focusing solely on building capacity at
Los Alamos National Laboratory, NNSA decided to “repurpose the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel
Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site to produce at least 50 pits per year” and to
continue work that would allow Los Alamos to produce “no fewer than 30 pits per year.”74 Critics
have questioned whether NNSA will be able to meet this schedule, and even those who support
the effort note that it will be a challenge.75
NNSA has apparently recognized the possibility that it will not have enough new pits available to
support the GBSD deployment schedule with W87-1 warheads. In its budget documents, NNSA
has indicated that it plans to complete the first production unit of the W87-1 in FY2030.
However, the FY2021 budget documents also note that the W87-0 warhead, which is currently
deployed on U.S. ICBMs, will also be “qualified and deployed onto the GBSD.” This would
provide the Air Force with an alternative warhead if the W87-1 warhead is delayed.
NNSA requested $112 million in FY2020 for the W87-1 warhead modification program. NNSA
also requested $420 million in FY2020 to support design activities at Savannah River and begin
the modifications needed to produce 50 pits per year at the repurposed facility by 2030. In
addition, the Air Force requested $75.6 million for the MK21A Reentry Vehicle Program in
FY2020. This program will “design, develop, produce, and deploy an integrated reentry vehicle
capable of delivering the W87-1 warhead.”
The House, in its version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 2500),
reduced the request for the W87-1 warhead to $53 million and the request for to support design
activities at Savannah River to $179 million. The Senate’s version of the bill supported the budget

72 Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, W78 Replacement Program (W87-1): Cost
Estimates and Use of Insensitive High Explosives
, Washington, DC, December 8, 2018, p. 2,
http://www.airforcemag.com/Features/Documents/
W78%20Replacement%20Program%20Cost%20Estimates%20IHE.pdf.
73 Ibid. p. 5.
74U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, Plutonium Pit Production, Fact Sheet,
Washington, DC, April 2019, https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2019/05/f62/2019-05-13-FACTSHEET-
plutonium-pits.pdf.
75 Dan Leone, “NNSA Downplays Study that Says Agency Can't Make 50 Nuke Cores Per Year by 2030 in S.C.,”
Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor, April 12, 2019. See, also, Colin Demarest, The Aiken Standard, August 28,
2019, https://www.aikenstandard.com/news/going-gangbusters-srns-chief-says-plutonium-work-harkens-back-to/
article_a94e8d8a-c995-11e9-8741-2f606f64ed72.html.
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requests, and the Congress approved $112 million for the W87-1 modification program and $65.7
million for the MK21A Reentry Vehicle Program in the Conference Report on the FY2020
National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 116-92). Congress also appropriated $420 million to
support design activities at Savannah River.
NNSA has requested $541 million W87-1 warhead modification program. Congress authorized
this funding in the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act. NNSA has indicated that this
increase over the $112 million enacted for the W87-1 in FY2020 reflects a “ramp-up” of activities
across all program areas. NNSA has also requested $441.9 million to support the design of the
new pit facility and plutonium processing at Savannah River. Congress also authorized this
funding in the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act. The Air Force has requested $112.8
million for the MK21A Reentry Vehicle Program.
Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles
The U.S. fleet of ballistic missile submarines consists of 14 Trident (Ohio-class) submarines, each
originally equipped to carry 24 Trident missiles. With 2 submarines in overhaul, the operational
fleet of 12 submarines currently carries around 1,100 warheads. To comply with the launcher
limits in New START, each of the submarines can now carry only 20 missiles. The four empty
launch tubes have been removed from accountability under New START after being modified so
that they can no longer carry or launch missiles. As a result, the 14 submarines count as a total of
280 deployed and nondeployed launchers, with 240 deployed launchers counting on the 12
operational submarines.
By the early 1990s, the United States had completed the deployment of 18 Trident ballistic
missile submarines (SSBNs). Each of these submarines was equipped to carry 24 Trident
missiles, and each missile could carry up to 8 warheads (either W-76 warheads or the larger W-88
warheads on the Trident II missile). The Navy initially deployed eight of these submarines at
Bangor, WA, and all eight were equipped with the older Trident I missile. It then deployed 10
submarines, all equipped with the Trident II missile, at Kings Bay, GA. During the 1994 Nuclear
Posture Review, the Clinton Administration decided that the United States would reduce the size
of its Trident fleet to 14 submarines, and that 4 of the older submarines would be “backfit” to
carry the Trident II missile.
The Bush Administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review endorsed the plan to backfit four of the
Trident submarines so that all would carry Trident II missiles. It also indicated that, instead of
retiring the remaining four submarines, the Navy would convert them to carry conventional
weapons, and designated them “guided missile” submarines (SSGNs). The 2010 NPR also
endorsed a force of 14 Trident submarines, although it noted that it might reduce that force to 12
submarines in the latter half of this decade. As was noted above, each submarine will deploy with
only 20 missiles to meet the reductions in New START. As a result, the U.S. ballistic missile
submarine (SSBN) force may continue to consist of 14 Trident submarines, with 2 in overhaul,
through New START implementation.
The SSGN Program
The Navy converted four Trident submarines (the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida, and
USS Georgia) to carry conventional cruise missiles and other conventional weapons. Reports
indicate that the conversion process took approximately $1 billion and two years for each of the
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four submarines. The SSGNs can each carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, along with up to 100
special forces troops and their mini-submarines.76
The first two submarines scheduled for this conversion were removed from the nuclear fleet in
early 2003. They were slated to receive their engineering overhaul, then to begin the conversion
process in 2004.77 The first to complete the process, the USS Ohio returned to service as an
SSGN in January 200678 and achieved operational status on November 1, 2007. According to the
Navy, the Georgia was scheduled for deployment in March 2008, and the other submarines were
scheduled to reach that status later in the year.79 According to Admiral Stephen Johnson, the
Director of the Navy’s Strategic Submarine Program (SSP), all four of the submarines had
returned to service by mid-2008, and two were forward-deployed on routine patrols. According to
the Navy, these submarines are likely to remain in service through the mid-2020s.
The Backfit Program
As was noted above, both the 1994 and 2001 Nuclear Posture Reviews confirmed that the Navy
would backfit four Trident submarines so that they could carry the newer Trident II (D-5) missile.
This process not only allowed the Navy to replace the aging C-4 missiles, it also equipped the
fleet with a missile that has improved accuracy and a larger payload. With its greater range, it
would allow the submarines to operate in a larger area and cover a greater range of targets. These
characteristics were valued when the system was designed and the United States sought to
enhance its ability to deter the Soviet Union. The Bush Administration believed that the range,
payload, and flexibility of the Trident submarines and D-5 missiles remained relevant in an era
when the United States may seek to deter or defeat a wider range of adversaries. The Obama
Administration has emphasized that, by providing the United States with a secure second strike
capability, these submarines enhance strategic stability.
Four of the eight Trident submarines based in Bangor, WA (USS Alaska, USS Nevada, USS
Henry M. Jackson, and USS Alabama) were a part of the backfit program. The Alaska and
Nevada both began the process in 2001; the Alaska completed its backfit and rejoined the fleet in
March 2002 and the Nevada did the same in August 2002. During the process, the submarines
underwent a preplanned engineered refueling overhaul, which accomplishes a number of
maintenance objectives, including refueling of the reactor, repairing and upgrading some
equipment, replacing obsolete equipment, repairing or upgrading the ballistic missile systems,
and other minor alterations.80 The submarines also are fit with the Trident II missiles and the
operating systems that are unique to these missiles. According to the Navy, both of these efforts
came in ahead of schedule and under budget. The Henry M. Jackson and Alabama were
completed their engineering overhaul and backfit in FY2006 and reentered the fleet in 2007 and
2008.

76 Connolly, Allison. For Four Subs, Its Good-bye Ballistic Missiles, Hello SEALs. Norfolk Virginia Pilot. December
18, 2004.
77 Ohio Class SSGN Tactical Trident. GlobalSecurity.org http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/ssgn-
726.htm.
78 First Trident Submarine Converted. Associated Press. January 10, 2006.
79 U.S. Congress. Senate. Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. Fiscal Year 2008 Strategic
Forces Program Budget. Hearing. Prepared statement of Mr. Brian R. Green, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense,
Strategic Capabilities, p. 6. March 28, 2007. See also, Guided Missile Submarine Ohio Ready for Deployment. Inside
the Navy, November 5, 2007.
80 SSBN-726 Ohio-Class FBM Submarines, GlobalSecurity.org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/systems/ssbn-726-
recent.htm.
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The last of the Trident I (C-4) missiles was removed from the fleet in October 2004, when the
USS Alabama off-loaded its missiles and began the overhaul and backfit process. All the Trident
submarines currently in the U.S. fleet now carry the Trident II missile.81
Basing Changes
When the Navy first decided, in the mid-1990s, to maintain a Trident fleet with 14 submarines, it
planned to “balance” the fleet by deploying 7 Trident submarines at each of the 2 Trident bases.
The Navy would have transferred three submarines from Kings Bay to Bangor, after four of the
submarines from Bangor were removed from the ballistic missile fleet, for a balance of seven
submarines at each base. However, these plans changed after the Bush Administration’s Nuclear
Posture Review. The Navy has transferred five submarines to Bangor, “balancing” the fleet by
basing nine submarines at Bangor and five submarines at Kings Bay. Because two submarines
would be in overhaul at any given time, this basing plan means that seven submarines would be
operational at Bangor and five would be operational at Kings Bay.
According to unclassified reports, the Navy began moving Trident submarines from Kings Bay to
Bangor in 2002, and transferred the fifth submarine in September 2005.82 This change in basing
pattern apparently reflected changes in the international security environment, with fewer targets
within range of submarines operating in the Atlantic, and a greater number of targets within range
of submarines operating in the Pacific. In particular, the shift allows the United States to improve
its coverage of targets in China and North Korea.83 Further, as the United States modifies its
nuclear targeting objectives it could alter the patrol routes for the submarines operating in both
oceans, so that a greater number of emerging targets would be within range of the submarines in a
short amount of time.
Warhead Loadings
The Trident II (D-5) missiles can be equipped to carry up to eight warheads each. Under the terms
of the original START Treaty, which was in force from 1994 to 2009, the United States could
remove warheads from Trident missiles, and reduce the number listed in the database, a process
known as downloading, to comply with the treaty’s limit of 6,000 warheads. The United States
took advantage of this provision, reducing to six warheads per missile on the eight Trident
submarines based at Bangor, WA.84
During the George W. Bush Administration, the Navy further reduced the number of warheads on
the Trident submarines so that the United States could reduce its forces to the 2,200 deployed
warheads permitted under the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The United States did not have to reach this
limit until 2012, but it had done so by 2009.
The United States has continued to reduce the total numbers of warheads carried on its Trident
missiles to reach the New START Treaty limits. Unlike START, which attributed the same

81 Morris, Jefferson. Older Trident Missiles to be Phased out by Fall, Admiral Says. Aerospace Daily and Defense
Report, June 17, 2005.
82 Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen. U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2006. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
January/February 2006.
83 Ibid.
84 Even though four of these submarines are being converted to SSGNs, they still count under the START Treaty
because they still have SLBM launch tubes. Each of those tubes count as six warheads. See U.S. Department of State.
Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation. START Aggregate Number of Strategic Offensive Arms.
April 1, 2006.
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number of warheads to each missile of a given type, regardless of whether some of the missiles
carried fewer warheads, the United States can deploy different numbers of warheads on different
missiles, and count only the actual warheads deployed on the force. This will allow each missile
to be tailored to meet the mission assigned to that missile.85 The United States does not need to
indicate how many warheads are deployed on each missile at all times; it must simply report the
total number of operationally deployed warheads on all of its strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.
The United States and Russia can confirm that actual number of warheads on a specific missile,
with random, short-notice inspections. Moreover, the United States will not have to alter the
platforms in the missiles, so it could restore warheads to its Trident missiles if circumstances
changed.
Modernization Plans and Programs
The Navy initially planned to keep Trident submarines in service for 30 years, but then extended
that time period to 42 years. This extension reflects the judgment that ballistic missile submarines
would have operated with less demanding missions than attack submarines, and could, therefore,
be expected to have a much longer operating life than the expected 30-year life of attack
submarines. Therefore, since 1998, the Navy has assumed that each Trident submarine would
have an expected operating lifetime of at least 42 years, with two 20-year operating cycles
separated by a 2-year refueling overhaul.86 With this schedule, the submarines will begin to retire
from the fleet in the late 2020s. The Navy has also pursued a number of programs to ensure that it
has enough missiles to support this extended life for the submarines.
Trident Missile Production and Life Extension
The Navy purchased a total force of 533 D-5 missiles through 2012. It continued to produce
rocket motors, at a rate of around one per month, and to procure alternation kits (known as
SPALTs) needed to meet the extended service life of the submarine. Although the Navy plans to
deploy its submarines with only 240 ballistic missiles under New START, it needs the greater
number of missiles to support the fleet throughout the their life-cycle. In addition, around 50 of
the Trident missiles are available for use by Great Britain in its Trident submarines. The
remainder would support the missile’s test program throughout the life of the Trident system.
The Navy is pursuing a life extension program for the D-5 missiles, known as the D5LE (D-5
Life Extension) so that they will remain capable and reliable throughout the 42-year life of the
Trident submarines; they will also serve as the initial missile on the new Columbia class
submarine. The funding for the Trident II missile supported the purchase of additional solid
rocket motors other critical components required to support the missile throughout its service life.
Reports indicate the Navy started loading the submarines with the new missile in 2017.87
In 2019, the Navy’s Strategic Systems Program office indicated that it would begin a second life
extension program for the Trident II missile—known as the D5LE2—to replace old parts and
ensure the missiles’ reliability through the life of the Columbia class submarine.88 Reports

85 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2017,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
December 2016, p. 52.
86 SSBN Ohio-Class FBM Submarines. GlobalSecurity.org.
87 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2018,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March
2018, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00963402.2018.1438219?needAccess=true.
88 Megan Eckstein, “Navy Beginning Tech Study to Extend Trident Nuclear Missile Into the 2080s,” USNI News,
November 14, 2019, https://news.usni.org/2019/11/14/navy-beginning-tech-study-to-extend-trident-nuclear-missile-
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indicate that the Navy plans to spend $700 million over six years to conduct studies and analyses,
with the design of the new missile beginning in FY2025.89
The Navy allocated $5.5 billion to the Trident II missile program in FY2008 and FY2009. This
funding supported the purchase of an additional 36 Trident II missiles. The Navy spent $1.05
billion on Trident II modifications in FY2010 and requested $1.1 billion in FY2011. In FY2010,
$294 million was allocated to the purchase of 24 new missiles, $154.4 million was allocated to
missile support costs, and $597.7 million was allocated to the Trident II Life Extension program.
In FY2011, the Navy requested $294.9 million for the purchase of 24 new missiles, $156.9
million to missile support costs, and $655.4 million to the Trident II Life Extension Program. The
FY2012 budget included $1.3 billion for Trident II missile program. Within this total, $191
million was allocated to the purchase of 24 additional new missiles, $137.8 million was allocated
to missile support costs, and $980 million was allocated to the Trident II Life Extension Program.
This was the last year during which the Navy sought to purchase new Trident II missiles. The
FY2013 budget requested $1.2 billion for the Trident II missile program. This total included $524
million for program production and support costs, and $700.5 million for the Trident II life
extension program. The Navy requested $1.14 billion for this program area in FY2014. According
to the Navy’s budget documents, this allowed it to continue to purchase components, such as the
alteration kits for the guidance and missile electronics systems and solid rocket motors for these
missiles. The Navy received $1.17 billion for FY2015 and $1.1 billion for FY2016 for Trident II
modifications.
The Navy requested, and Congress authorized, $1.1 billion for Trident II modifications in
FY2017, $1.2 billion in FY2018, and $1.1 billion in FY2019. In its FY2020 budget request, the
Navy requested $1.17 billion for Trident II modifications, with the funding covered through the
Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) portion of the Pentagon budget. When asked about this
anomaly, the Navy confirmed that it did not plan to employ Trident missiles in ongoing overseas
operations, and that it was instructed to fund the program through OCO to meet the constraints of
the Budget Control Act. Congress approved this funding in the FY2020 National Defense
Authorization Act (P.L. 116-92). The Navy plans to spend about $5 billion on Trident II
modifications between FY2021 and FY2024.
The Navy requested $1.17 billion for Trident II modifications in FY2021. Within this total, the
Navy requested $111 million for the D5LE2 project. Although not noted in the budget
document’s description, $32 million will support the development of the MK7 aeroshell, which
will be deployed on the D5LE2 missile with the new W93 warhead (described below). Congress
approved these amounts in the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
W76 Warhead Life Extension
The overwhelming majority of Trident missiles are deployed with the MK4/W76 warhead, which,
according to unclassified estimates, has a yield of 100 kilotons.90 It is recently completed a life
extension program (LEP) that was designed to enhance its capabilities. According to some
reports, the Navy had initially planned to apply this program to around 25% of the W76
warheads, but then increased that plan to cover more than 60% of the stockpile. NNSA completed

into-the-2080s.
89 Jason Sherman, “Navy reveals six-year, $700M plan to design second Trident SLBM life extension,” Inside Defense,
March 6, 2020, https://insidedefense.com/daily-news/navy-reveals-six-year-700m-plan-design-second-trident-slbm-
life-extension.
90 Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen. U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2015. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. March 2015,
http://bos.sagepub.com/content/71/2/107.full.pdf+html.
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production of the W76-1 LEP in 2019. The LEP is intended to add 30 years to the warhead life
“by refurbishing the nuclear explosive package, the arming, firing, and fusing system, the gas
transfer system, and associated cables, elastomers, valves, pads, cushions, foam supports,
telemetries, and other miscellaneous parts.”
NNSA requested $224.1 million for the W76 LEP in FY2018 and $133.9 million in FY2019. It
did not request any additional funding in FY2020 or FY2021 due to the “completion of remaining
W76 warhead modifications and associated deliveries to the Navy. The FY2019 budget
documents also introduced a new component to the W76 LEP. NNSA noted that “the 2018
Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) states that the United States will modify a small quantity of
existing SLBM warheads to provide a low-yield option in the near-term.” The NPR views this
capability as a response to the belief that Russia, using what is often referred to as the “escalate to
de-escalate” doctrine, might misjudge U.S. willingness to respond to the limited first use of
nuclear weapons during a conventional conflict in Europe. The NPR argues that, by deploying a
low-yield SLBM warhead, the United States will “ensure that the Russian leadership does not
miscalculate regarding the consequences of limited nuclear first use” and will “understand that
nuclear first-use, however limited, will fail to achieve its objectives, fundamentally alter the
nature of a conflict, and trigger incalculable and intolerable costs for Moscow.”91
NNSA designated the low-yield version of the W76 warhead as the W76-2. NNSA’s FY2019
budget request did not request any funding specifically allocated to this modification, but it did
note that “as the Nuclear Weapons Council translates policy into military requirements, the
Administration will work with Congress for appropriate authorizations and appropriations to
develop options that support the modification.” The White House later included a request for $65
million for this modification in a budget amendment package submitted to Congress on April 13,
2018. This document stated that the amendment would “authorize the production of low-yield
ballistic missiles to replace higher-yield weapons currently deployed, maintaining the overall
number of deployed U.S. ballistic missile warheads.” It noted that a delay in the program past
FY2019 “would require a restart of the W76 production line, increase costs, and delay delivery to
the Department of Defense.”92
Congress approved the FY2019 funding request in the Energy and Water Appropriations Act,
H.R. 5895, and noted, in the conference report (H.Rept. 115-929), that NNSA must “comply with
the direction in the House report regarding the W76-2.” The House report (H.Rept. 115-697)
mandated that NNSA provide Congress with “a report detailing the plan, rationale, costs, and
implications of producing a low-yield variant of the W76 warhead.” The report is to include not
only cost and schedule estimates, but also a “detailed discussion of the military requirements
associated with the W76-2.”
NNSA completed its work on the W76-2 warhead in FY2019, so it requested only $10 million for
the program in FY2020 to support program documentation and close out activities. The Navy also
requested $19.6 million to begin the integration of the warhead onto its D-5 missiles. The House,
in its version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act [H.R. 2500] prohibited the use
of FY2020 funds for that purpose. The Senate version of the bill included the funding, and

91 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, p. 30,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
92 Aaron Mehta, “Trump administration repurposes $65 million for new nuclear warhead design,” Defense News, April
17, 2018, https://www.defensenews.com/smr/nuclear-triad/2018/04/17/trump-administration-repurposes-65-million-
for-new-nuclear-warhead-design/.
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Congress approved the requests for both $10 million for NNSA and $19.6 million for the Navy in
the final version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 116-92).
Press reports indicate that the Navy began to deploy the W76-2 warhead in late January 2020.
John Rood, then the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, confirmed the deployment in early
February, noting that “the warhead will help the United States dissuade Russia from risking
launching a limited nuclear conflict.”93
Several questions came up during the W76 life extension program. For example, some weapons
experts questioned whether the warhead’s design is reliable enough to ensure that the warheads
will explode at its intended yield.94 In addition, in June 2006, an inspector general’s report from
the Department of Energy questioned the management practices at the National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA), which is responsible for the LEP, arguing that management problems
had led to delays and created cost overruns in the program. This raised questions about whether
NNSA would be able to meet the September 2007 delivery date for the warhead,95 and, when
combined with other technical issues, delayed the delivery of the first W76 warhead until August
2008. The Navy accepted the first refurbished warhead into the stockpile in August 2009.96
W88 Alteration Program
While most Trident II missiles carry W76 warheads, a portion of the fleet carries the W88
warhead. This warhead, the last to be added to the U.S. nuclear stockpile, entered the force in the
late 1980s. According to DOE, this warhead is also in need of work to address concerns with its
safety and reliability. In particular, according to recent testimony, the W88 warhead is in the
“development engineering phase for Alteration (ALT) 370 to replace the aging arming, fuzing,
and firing components.” In August 2014, the Nuclear Weapons Council also decided to address
potential problems with the warhead’s conventional high explosive during the ALT 370 program.
This program received $169.5 million in FY2014, $165.4 million in FY2015, and $220.1 million
in FY2016. In its FY2016 budget request, NNSA indicated that the additional funding for this
program will come from offsets generated by reducing sustainment activities and the quantities of
stored warheads for some other types of warheads. In essence, NNSA “identified areas where
increased risk could be accepted to produce cost-savings within the current program—without
additional funding—and without additional delays to future work.”97 NNSA received $281.1
million for the W88 Alteration in FY2017. It requested $332.3 million for FY2018, $304.3
million in FY2019, and $304.2 million in FY2020. Congress enacted these amounts. NNSA has
requested $256.9 million for the W88 Alternation in FY2021.
According to NNSA budget documents, this program was scheduled to produce its first
production unit (FPU) in 2020. However, in May 2019, NNSA indicated that the delivery of the
first production unit was likely to slip after it identified defects in the electrical capacitors used in
the modified warheads. NNSA’s Kansas City National Security Campus, which acquires the
nonnuclear parts of nuclear weapons, had determined that the capacitors might not remain reliable
for 30-year life of the modified warheads. As a result, NNSA plans to replace the capacitors that

93 Robert Burns, “US adds ‘low yield’ nuclear weapon to its submarine arsenal,” Associated Press, February 4, 2020,
https://apnews.com/b910d5f4f2076d558416ae021b511517.
94 Fleck, John. Flaws Seen in Sub-Launched Nuclear Warhead. Albuquerque Journal. July 8, 2004.
95 Costa, Keith J. IG: Project Weaknesses put W-76 Warhead Refurbishment Plan at Risk. InsideDefense.com, June 8,
2006.
96 “Navy Receives First Refurbished W-76 Warheads,” Global Security Newswire, November 6, 2009.
97 Ibid.
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cost about $5 per unit with $75 units built to a higher standard. This is likely to add about $120-
$150 million to the cost of the W88-Alt LEP.98
W93 Warhead and MK7 Aeroshell
In its FY2021 budget request, NNSA has requested $53 million to begin Phase 1 “concept
assessment and refinement” activities for a new W93 warhead. NNSA and the Navy have
indicated that the W93 sea-based warhead will eventually replace the W76 and W88 warheads on
life-extended Trident II missiles. In the past, NNSA documents had referred to this warhead as the
“next Navy warhead.” NNSA had not expected to request funding for it until FY2023. A DOD
official noted that because the warhead does not yet exist, this is not a life extension program, but
neither NNSA nor DOD has designated this as a “new” warhead. The Pentagon has indicated,
however, that it will be a “new program of record,” and will be based on previously nuclear-tested
designs. Therefore, it will not require nuclear testing.99
NNSA has indicated that the program for this new warhead will follow the Phase 1 through 7
nuclear weapons acquisition cycle system100 during its development process. Congress, in the
FY2021 NDAA Conference Report (H.Rept. 116-617), outlined a number of reporting and
assessment requirements designed to strengthen oversight and ensure adequate program
management. These include reports on the planned characteristics of the warhead; assessments of
the requirements that the warhead might generate for the nuclear weapons enterprise; a plan to
implement a process of independent peer review of the warhead’s characteristics; and a report on
the requirements for the numbers and types of warheads that will be deployed on the U.S. SSBN
force.
NNSA requested $53 million to begin studies on the W93 warhead in FY2021; Congress
authorized this amount. The Navy also plans to design a new reentry body, known as the MK7
aeroshell, that will house the new warhead when it is deployed on Trident II missiles. It has
requested $32 million for this effort in FY2021, and expects to request a total of $480 million
over the next five years.101
The Columbia Class Submarine
The Navy is currently completing design work and beginning procurement of a new class of
ballistic missile submarines, known as the Columbia Class. This was originally known as the
SSBN(X) program and the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP). These submarines will replace the

98 Dan Leone, “Balky Capacitors Could Delay Two NNSA Nuke Refurb Programs,” Nuclear Security and Deterrence
Monitor
, May 10, 2019, https://www.exchangemonitor.com/balky-capacitors-delay-two-nnsa-nuke-refurb-programs/.
See, also, Aaron Mehta, “How a $5 part used to modernize nuclear warheads could cost $850 million to fix,” Defense
News
, September 25, 2019, https://www.defensenews.com/smr/nuclear-arsenal/2019/09/25/nuclear-warhead-programs-
need-850m-fix-heres-how-the-government-plans-to-cover-it/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&
utm_campaign=EBB%2009.26.19&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief.
99 Aaron Mehta, “Inside America’s newly revealed nuclear ballistic missile warhead of the future,” Defense News,
February 24, 2020, https://www.defensenews.com/smr/nuclear-arsenal/2020/02/24/inside-americas-newly-revealed-
nuclear-ballistic-missile-warhead-of-the-future/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=
EBB%2002.25.20&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief.
100 U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Weapons Life Cycle, Fact Sheet, Washington, DC, September 2015,
https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2018/06/f53/6x%20process.pdf.
101 Jon Harper, “Political Battle Brewing Over New Nuclear Program,” National Defense, March 17, 2020,
https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/3/17/political-battle-brewing-over-new-nuclear-program.
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Ohio-class Trident submarines as they reach the end of their service lives.102 The Trident
submarines will begin to retire in 2027, and the Navy initially indicated that it would need the
new submarines to begin to enter the fleet by 2029, before the number of Trident submarines falls
below 12.103 To do this, the Navy would have had to begin construction of its new submarine by
2019 so that it could begin to enter the fleet in 2029.104 However, in the FY2013 budget request,
the Navy delayed the procurement of the new class of submarines by two years. As a result, the
first new submarine will enter the fleet in 2031 and the number of SSBNs in the fleet is expected
to decline to 10 for most of the 2030s.
Costs and Funding
The SSBN(X) program received $497.4 million in research and development funding in the
Navy’s FY2010 budget. The Navy requested an additional $672.3 million in research and
development funding for the program in its FY2011 budget proposal. The FY2012 budget
included $1.07 billion to develop the SSBN(X). It expected to request $927.8 million in FY2013,
with the funding of $29.4 billion between 2011 and 2020. However, with the delay of two years
in the procurement of the first SSBN(X), the Navy budgeted only $565 million for the program in
FY2013. It then budgeted $1.1 billion for FY2014 and $1.2 billion in FY2015. It received an
additional $1.39 billion in FY2016, with $971.4 million allocated to submarine development and
$419.3 million allocated to power systems.
The Navy requested an additional $1.9 billion for the Ohio-replacement (ORP) in FY2017.
Within this total, $700.1 million was allocated to submarine development and $390.3 million was
allocated to nuclear power systems. The Navy also requested $773.1 million for advanced
procurement; this funding will support detailed design work in preparation for the beginning of
construction. Both the House and the Senate authorized the requested levels of funding in their
versions of the 2017 Defense Authorization Bill. The House, however, moved the $773.1 million
for advanced procurement from the Navy’s shipbuilding budget into the congressionally created
National Sea-based Deterrent Fund (NSDF), which is described below. Congress approved the
full funding requests in the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 114-328), but did
not transfer funding for advanced procurement to the NSDF. The Navy requested $1.9 billion for
the Columbia class submarine in FY2018, with $776.2 million for submarine development,
$265.5 million for advanced nuclear power systems, and $842.9 million for advanced
procurement. Congress approved this request in the National Defense Authorization Act for
FY2018 (H.Rept. 115-404).
The Navy requested $3.8 billion for the Columbia Class submarine in its FY2019 budget. Within
this total, $514.8 million was allocated to submarine development, $256.1 million to advanced
nuclear power systems, and $3 billion to advanced procurement. Congress authorized $526.8
million for submarine development and $3.2 billion for advanced procurement in the National
Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (P.L. 115-232). According to the Navy’s budget
documents, the FY2019 request is “predominantly driven by procurement of the two-year long
lead time” of equipment needed to begin construction of the first submarine. This equipment
includes launcher and fire control subsystem components, nuclear propulsion plant equipment,
and hull mechanical and electrical systems. According to the Navy, “these funds are required in

102 For details on this program, see CRS Report R41129, Navy Columbia (SSBN-826) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine
Program: Background and Issues for Congress
, by Ronald O'Rourke.
103 Christopher J. Castelli, “Navy Confronts $80 Billion Cost of New Ballistic Missile Submarines,” Inside Defense,
November 3, 2009.
104 RADM Stephen Johnson, Director, Navy Strategic Programs Office. Speech at the NDU/NDIA Seminar Series,
June 23, 2009.
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October of 2018 to ensure the Columbia Program meets program schedules and the components
will meet contractor in yard need dates to support on time construction start and delivery of the
lead ship.” Moreover, within the $3 billion requested for advanced procurement, the largest single
amount ($1.7 billion) is allocated to the “nuclear propulsion plant equipment”—the nuclear
reactor that will power the submarine.
The Navy requested $2.23 billion for the Columbia Class submarine in its FY2020 budget. Within
this total, $551 million is allocated to research and development, $1.7 billion is allocated to
advanced procurement. In addition, the NNSA budget contains $75 million for the development
of the nuclear reactor for the submarine. The House, in its version of the FY2020 National
Defense Authorization Bill, increased funding for advanced procurement to $1.824 billion, and
the Senate increased funding for research and development to $548.1 million. Congress approved
$1.822 billion for advanced procurement and $548.1 million for research and development in the
FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 116-92).
The Navy requested $4.4 billion for the Columbia Class submarine in its FY2021 budget. While
this is a 90% increase over the request for FY2020, it is consistent with the funding level that
planned for FY2021, with significant funding now going towards procurement. Within the $4.4
billion total, the Navy has allocated $397 million to research and development, $1.1 billion to
advanced procurement, and $2.9 billion to procurement. In addition, the NNSA budget contains
$64.7 million for the development of the nuclear reactor for the submarine. Congress, in the
conference report on the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (H.Rept. 116-617),
generally approved the Navy’s request but added $130 million to the funding for advanced
procurement. The conference report notes that this added funding was intended to support the
expansion of the submarine industrial base to ensure that second- and third-tier contractors can
meet increased production requirements as the procurement phase of the program proceeds.
The Navy had planned to begin the detailed design for the submarine and to begin advanced
procurement of critical components in FY2015, with the seven-year construction period for the
first submarine beginning in FY2019. This timeline changed, in part to reduce near-term costs,
but also to reduce risks in the program. With advanced procurement beginning in FY2017, the
Navy plans to begin building the first hull in 2021. At the same time, it will continue to support
the joint U.S./U.K. development of a common missile compartment, which both nations will use
in their new SSBNs.
The Navy initially estimated that each submarine in this program could cost $6 billion to $7
billion in FY2010 dollars. It has worked to redesign the submarine and reduce the costs, with the
plan to hold each submarine to around $4.9 billion, in FY2010 dollars. Officials in the Navy and
analysts outside government have expressed concerns about the cost of this program, and about
the effect that these costs may have on the rest of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans. A study by the
Congressional Budget Office indicated that the SSBN(X) program could cost a total of $97-$102
billion, in 2010 dollars, with $10-$15 billion for research and development and $87 billion for the
procurement of 12 submarines.105 A March 2015 GAO report assessing estimated the total
acquisition cost of the SSBN(X) program at about $95.8 billion, in constant FY2015 dollars,
including about $11.8 billion in research and development costs and about $84.0 billion in
procurement costs.106 More recently, the Navy has estimated that the first submarine would cost

105 Congressional Budget Office, An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2014 Shipbuilding Plan, Washington, DC,
October 2013, p. 24, http://www.cbo.gov/publication/44655.
106 Government Accountability Office, Defense Acquisitions[:] Assessments of Selected Weapons Programs, GAO-15-
342SP, March 2015, p. 148.
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$13.2 billion in 2018 dollars and that subsequent ships would have an average cost of $6.6
billion, for a total acquisition cost of $85 billion for 12 submarines. With research and
development costs of $13 billion, the total acquisition cost would be $98 billion.107
There has been widespread agreement, in the Navy, at the Pentagon, and among defense analysts,
that the costs associated with the Columbia class submarine could undermine the rest of the
Navy’s shipbuilding budget. At one point, Navy officials estimated that, if the Navy funded this
program through its current, planned shipbuilding budget, it would have to forgo the acquisition
of up to 32 other naval vessels. According to former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, unless Congress
provides extra funding, “the production of 12 new ships to replace the Ohio-class submarines
could ‘gut’ the Navy’s shipbuilding budget for more than a decade.”108 In testimony before
Congress in February 2015, Navy officials noted that “the Navy continues to need significant
increases in our topline beyond the FYDP [Future Years Defense Plan] … in order to afford the
OR [Ohio replacement] SSBN procurement costs. Absent a significant increase … OR SSBN
construction will seriously impair construction of virtually all other ships in the battle force:
attack submarines, destroyers, and amphibious warfare ships.”109
In response to this growing fiscal pressure, Admiral Richard Breckenridge suggested, in
testimony offered in 2013, that Congress set up an annual $4 billion supplemental fund outside
the Navy’s budget to help support this program.110 Several Members of Congress have supported
this proposal.111 Congress included language in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act
establishing a National Sea-based Deterrence Fund (P.L. 113-291, §1022). According to the
legislation, money placed in the fund will be available for the design, construction, purchase,
alteration, and conversion of “national sea-based deterrence vessels,” which is a reference to
ballistic missile submarines. The legislation also states that the Secretary of Defense has the
authority to transfer up to $3.5 billion into the fund from unobligated funds in the DOD budget.
Congress did not, however, appropriate increased funding for this effort, and the Secretary of
Defense had not identified or transferred any money into this fund. In the FY2016 NDAA, (H.R.
1735, §1051), Congress expanded the authority to transfer funding and included provisions
allowing the Secretary of the Navy to enter into “economic order quantity contracts” that might
achieve economic efficiencies based on production economies for major components or
subsystems. Some analysts estimate that this provision could reduce the procurement costs for the
submarine, saving, perhaps, several hundred million dollars per submarine.112

107 CBO has calculated the acquisition cost, excluding research and development, at $93 billion. See Congressional
Budget Office, An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2019 Shipbuilding Plan, Washington, DC, October 2018, p. 18,
https://www.cbo.gov/system/files?file=2018-10/54564-FY19Shipbuilding.pdf.
108 Yasmin Tadjdeh, “Mabus: Ohio-Class Submarine Replacement Could ‘Gut’ Navy Shipbuilding Budget,” National
Defense
, September 15, 2014, http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?List=
7c996cd7%2Dcbb4%2D4018%2Dbaf8%2D8825eada7aa2&ID=1601.
109 Statement of the Honorable Sean J. Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and
Acquisition) and Vice Admiral Joseph P. Mulloy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Integration of Capabilities and
Resources and Lieutenant General Kenneth J. Glueck Jr., Deputy Commandant, Combat Development and Integration
& Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and
Projection Forces of the House Armed Services Committee on Department of the Navy Seapower and Projection
Forces Capabilities, February 25, 2015, p. 8.
110 Lee Hudson, “Navy Asks Congress To Set Up Supplemental Fund for SSBN(X),” InsideDefense.com, September
12, 2013.
111 “Some U.S. Lawmakers Eye Funding new Submarines Outside Normal Process,” Global Security Newswire, March
12, 2014. See, also, Lee Hudson, “House Committee Looks to Create Separate Fund for Ohio Replacement,”
InsideDefense.com, May 2, 2014.
112 Eric Laws, An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2016 Shipbuilding Plan, Congressional Budget Office,
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Most experts agree that, without increased appropriations, this fund may protect the Navy’s
shipbuilding budget from the costs of the Columbia class submarine, but that it would not really
solve the DOD’s problem, because the money for the fund would have to come from other
portions of the Pentagon budget.113 Nevertheless, the Navy continues to support the Columbia
class submarine as its highest priority, with Admiral John Richardson, the Chief of Naval
Operations, noting that the ballistic missile submarine force is “foundational to our survival.”114
Force Posture
The Navy is designing the Columbia Class submarines with only 16 ballistic missile launch tubes.
The existing Trident submarines have 24 launch tubes, and each has been reduced to 20 missiles
as the United States complies with the New START Treaty. Congress questioned the Navy on this
plan during hearings in April 2011, with some Members asking whether the United States would
be able to deploy enough warheads if it reduced the numbers of missiles on each submarine.
Admiral Terry Benedict, then the Director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Program Office,
testified that the Navy’s ability to “upload” warheads onto Trident missiles convinced him, along
with other Navy and STRATCOM officials, that they could be comfortable with this
configuration.115 However, Congress remained unconvinced. In the FY2012 Defense
Authorization Act, it called for a new study that should consider the possibility of deploying 10 or
12 submarines with 16 launch tubes on each and 8 or 10 submarines with 20 launch tubes on
each. Moreover, the study was to review not only the cost of each option, but also the ability of
each option to meet the Navy’s at-sea requirements for the SSBN force and the ability of each
option to meet the nation’s nuclear employment and planning guidance.116
A report published in late 2011 indicated that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
suggested that the Navy reduce the number of SSBNs in the fleet to 10, but increase the number
of launch tubes on each submarine to 20.117 According to the OMB analysis, this could save the
Navy $7 billion over the life of the fleet, by reducing acquisition costs and operating costs. It
would not, however, undermine the submarines’ mission because, with 20 missiles per submarine,
the Navy would still be able to cover the full range of targets assigned to the Trident fleet.
Analysts outside government have offered similar suggestions, noting that the Navy could save
$27 billion over 10 years and $120 billion over the life of the fleet if the Navy built 8, rather than
12 submarines.118 Moreover, according to this analysis, the Navy would be able to deploy the
necessary number of warheads on these submarines, even if it did not increase the number of
launch tubes, by deploying more warheads on each of the Trident missiles on the submarine.
Generally, the number of launch tubes on the submarines should not affect the number of
warheads carried by each submarine or the ability of the fleet to hold a range of potential targets
at risk. Trident missiles can be equipped with eight warheads each, but, in their current
configuration, the missiles likely carry, on average, only three or four warheads each, as the force

Washington, DC, October 2015, pp. 18-19, https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/reports/
50926-Shipbuilding_OneCol-2.pdf.
113 Kingston Reif, “Hill Denies Money for Submarine Fund,” Arms Control Today, January 2016.
http://www.armscontrol.org/ACT/2016_0102/News/Hill-Denies-Money-for-Submarine-Fund.
114 Robert Burns, “New Navy Leader: Nukes ‘Foundational to Our Survival,’” Associated Press, January 7, 2016.
115 Emelie Rutherford, “Navy Defends Plan for Just 16 Missile Tubes on Next Boomer,” Defense Daily, April 7, 2011.
116 Elaine M. Grossman, “U.S. Defense Conference Bill Seeks New Submarine Cost Assessment,” Global Security
Newswire
, December 16, 2011.
117 Colin Clark, “OMB Pushes More Tubes, Fewer Boats for Ohio Replacement Subs,” AOL Defense, November 4,
2011, http://defense.aol.com/2011/11/04/omb-pushes-more-tubes-fewer-boats-for-ohio-replacement-subs/.
118 Tom Collina and Kelsey Davenport, “U.S. Must Rethink New Subs, Bombers,” Defense News, October 24, 2011.
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was reduced to the levels in New START. If the new submarines carry only 16 missiles, rather
than the 20 planned under New START, then they could deploy with 5-6 warheads per missile. In
essence, the Navy would put the same number of warheads on each submarine, but would just
spread them over a smaller number of missiles.
The Navy has noted that, as the United States reduces its forces to New START levels, the lower
number of missiles per submarine will allow the United States to retain a larger number of
submarines, without exceeding the treaty’s limit of 700 operational delivery vehicles. This allows
the Navy to maintain a fleet of 12 submarines, and to operate those submarines with continuous
deployments from 2 bases. The Navy has argued that, if it reduces the numbers of submarines in
the fleet, and alters its deployment patterns, it will not be able to meet its requirements, as these
cover more than just the total number of warheads on the fleet or total number of warheads at sea
at any time. Critics outside the government, however, question this approach, both because a fleet
of 12 submarines will cost more to procure and operate than a fleet of only 8 submarines and
because this fleet presumes that the United States must retain its current pattern of operations for
the SSBN fleet for the next 50-60 years.
With 12 submarines in the fleet, the Navy can maintain 4-5 on station at any time, patrolling in
areas where they would need to be to launch their missiles promptly after a presidential order. But
critics question whether this pattern, and the “continuous at-sea” deterrent of 4-5 submarines, will
be necessary in the decades ahead. They note that the United States will be able to maintain a
secure second strike deterrent on the submarines, even if they cannot launch as many warheads
promptly as they can launch today. Others however, continue to support the current operational
patterns, and to argue for a fleet of 12 submarines into the future. Congress, in the FY2013
Defense Authorization Bill (P.L. 112-239, §130) stated that “the continuous at-sea deterrence
provided by a robust and modern fleet of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines is critical
to maintaining nuclear deterrence and assurance and therefore is a central pillar of the national
security of the United States.” The legislation went on to indicate that “a minimum of 12
replacement ballistic missile submarines are necessary to provide continuous at-sea deterrence
over the lifetime of such submarines.... ”
Bombers
B-1 Bomber
The Air Force began to deploy the B-1 bomber in the mid-1980s and eventually deployed a fleet
of 96 aircraft. After several crashes, the Air Force was left with 92 bombers in 2001. It sought to
retire 30 of the aircraft, leaving a force of 62 bombers, but that plan met resistance from
Congress. The B-1 served exclusively as a nuclear delivery vehicle through 1991, carrying short-
range attack missiles and gravity bombs. Because these bombers were not equipped to carry
nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles, each counted as a single delivery vehicle and a single
warhead under START. In 1993, the Air Force began to convert the B-1 bombers to carry
conventional weapons. Specifically, the Air Force welded a metal sleeve onto each of the pylon
attachments under the bomber’s wings, which prevented them from carrying air-launched cruise
missiles.119 This process was completed in 1997 and the B-1 bomber is no longer equipped to
carry nuclear weapons. In 2011, the United States displayed the bomber to the Russians, under

119 Valerie Insinna, “The B-1B just launched a cruise missile externally. Hypersonic missiles could be next.,” Defense
News
, December 9, 2020, https://www.defensenews.com/air/2020/12/09/the-b-1b-just-launched-a-cruise-missile-
externally-hypersonic-missiles-could-be-next/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=
EBB%2012.10.20&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief.
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the terms of the New START Treaty, to demonstrate that it was no longer equipped to deliver
nuclear weapons and to confirm that it would not count under the limits in New START. The
bomber has contributed to U.S. conventional operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and contributed
to reassurance missions in Asia.
In December 2020 the Air Force conducted a flight test during which a B-1 bomber demonstrated
the ability to carry and release a JASSM cruise missile from an external pylon. They pylon used
in this demonstration was not one of the under-wing pylons that had been covered as part of the
bomber conversion. Air Force officials noted, however, that the goal was to eventually expand the
use of the external pylons on the B-1 bombers to “increase the operational flexibility of the
bomber fleet.”120 A representative for Air Force asserted that the use of the under-wing pylons to
carry cruise missiles or hypersonic weapons would not violate the New START Treaty because
the missiles would carry conventional warheads. However, when the pylons were covered, the
goal was to remove the bombers from accountability under the treaty. This accountability was
based on an assessment of whether the bomber could carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles, not
whether it was actually equipped with those missiles.
B-2 Bomber
The Air Force has 20 B-2 bombers, which are based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri.121 The B-2
bomber can carry both B61 and B83 nuclear bombs, but is not equipped to carry cruise missiles.
It can also carry conventional weapons and has participated in U.S. military campaigns from
Bosnia to Iraq. It is designed as a “low observable” aircraft and was intended to improve the U.S.
ability to penetrate Soviet air defenses. It continues to serve as a penetrating bomber, both when
flying conventional missions and when supporting the nuclear deterrent mission. The Air Force
has indicated that it needs significant maintenance and modernization funding to support the
mission.122
Weapons
According to unclassified estimates, the United States has around 322 B61 and B83 bombs for
use by strategic bombers, and an additional 230 B61 bombs for use by fighter aircraft.123 The B61
contains a number of different versions. The B61-7 serves as a strategic bomb and is carried by
B-2 bombers. The B61-3, 4, and 10 are considered nonstrategic bombs, with lower yields, and
would be delivered by fighter aircraft like the F-16 and F-35. The B61-11, a modification
developed in the 1990s, has a hardened, modified case so that it can penetrate some hardened
targets, although probably not those encased in steel and concrete. The B61-Mod 7, along with
the Mod-3 and Mod-4, and Mod-10 versions, are a part of an ongoing life extension program
(LEP) that will produce a new B61-mod 12 bomb.124 During the Obama Administration, NNSA

120 Giancarlo Casem, B-1B Lancer completes successful external release demonstration, Air Force Global Strike
Command, Edwards Air Force Base, CA, December 9, 2020, https://www.afgsc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/
2441552/b-1b-lancer-completes-successful-external-release-demonstration/.
121 A B-2 bomber crashed on take-off from Anderson Air Force Base on Guam in late February 2008, reducing the
number of deployed bombers from 21 to 20.
122 For details on the ongoing programs supporting this bomber and the B-52 bomber, see CRS Report R43049, U.S.
Air Force Bomber Sustainment and Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress
, by Jeremiah Gertler.
123 Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2019,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 2019,
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00963402.2019.1606503?needAccess=true.
124 For a description of ongoing work in the B61 LEP program, see Kevin Robinson-Avila, “Overhauling the nation’s
nuclear arsenal: Sandia National Labs achieves B61 milestone,” Albuquerque Journal, May 18, 2014.
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announced that it planned to retire the B83, the largest bomb remaining in the U.S. arsenal,
around 2025, after the completion of the B61 LEP. The Trump Administration, in the 2018
Nuclear Posture Review, has altered that plan, announcing in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review
that it will sustain “the B83-1 past its currently planned retirement date until a suitable
replacement is identified.”125
The Obama Administration strongly supported the life extension program for the B-61 bomb in
the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review. The report indicated that “the Administration will fully fund
the full scope LEP study and follow-on activities for the B61 bomb ... to ensure first production
begins in FY2017.” The NPR noted that the life extension program for the B61 bomb, which
would include enhancing safety, security, and use control, would also support U.S. extended
deterrence goals by allowing the United States to retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S.
nuclear weapons on B-2 bombers and tactical fighter-bombers.126 The Trump Administration also
voiced strong support for the program in the FY2018 Nuclear Posture Review. The timeline for
the program has slipped, and NNSA now expects the first unit to be available in 2022, rather than
2020. The delayed occurred after NNSA identified defects in the capacitors used in six major
electrical components. NNSA’s Kansas City National Security Campus, which acquires the
nonnuclear parts of nuclear weapons, determined that the capacitors might not remain reliable for
the 30-year life of the modified warheads. As a result, NNSA plans to replace the capacitors that
cost about $5 per unit with $75 units built to a higher standard. This is likely to add about $600
million to $700 million to the cost of the B61-12 LEP.127
Some in Congress challenged the plans for this program, asking whether a less costly and
complicated program might be sufficient. The Obama Administration claimed, however, that if it
pursued a less complex life extension program now, it would need to initiate a second program a
few years later to complete the remainder of the work. Moreover, the Obama Administration had
noted that, after it completed the B61 life extension, DOE would be able to retire the much larger
B83 bomb and reduce the number of B61 bombs in the U.S. stockpile. The Trump Administration
continues to support the B61 life extension program, but has raised concerns about whether it will
be able to replace the B83 in the U.S. stockpile. It noted that “the B83-1 and B61-11 can hold at
risk a variety of protected targets,” and, therefore, “both will be retained in the stockpile, at least
until there is sufficient confidence in the B61-12 gravity bomb that will become available in
2020.”128 There also is no indication, in the 2018 NPR, that the B61 LEP will allow NNSA to
reduce the number of nondeployed warheads in the U.S. stockpile.
The Air Force is also designing a new tail kit for the B61 bomb. This tail kit would replace the
parachute that the bomb currently uses to slow to its targets, and would improve the accuracy of

125 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, p. 61,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
126 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, April 6, 2010, p. 27, https://dod.defense.gov/
Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.
127 Dan Leone, “Balky Capacitors Could Delay Two NNSA Nuke Refurb Programs,” Nuclear Security and Deterrence
Monitor
, May 10, 2019, https://www.exchangemonitor.com/balky-capacitors-delay-two-nnsa-nuke-refurb-programs/.
See, also, Aaron Mehta, “How a $5 part used to modernize nuclear warheads could cost $850 million to fix,” Defense
News
, September 25, 2019, https://www.defensenews.com/smr/nuclear-arsenal/2019/09/25/nuclear-warhead-programs-
need-850m-fix-heres-how-the-government-plans-to-cover-it/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&
utm_campaign=EBB%2009.26.19&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief.
128 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, p. 42,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
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the weapon. Some analysts claimed that this tail kit would provide the bomb with new
capabilities, and would undermine the Obama Administration’s pledge that it would not develop
new military capabilities as it conducted the warhead life extension programs.129 Others, however,
disputed this conclusion. They noted that the new B61-12 will combine an increase in accuracy
with a reduction in yield, allowing it to accomplish the same mission as the current unguided, but
higher yield, weapon. As a result, the Air Force has argued that the tail kit will allow the modified
B61 bombs to meet operational requirements for the bomber fleet and provide “nuclear assurance
to U.S. allies in Europe.”
The Air Force and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) conducted the first
development flight test of the B61-12 LEP in July 2015130 and the first qualification flight test in
2017. It conducted two additional qualification flight tests in 2018.131 The tests integrated the new
tail kit with bomb hardware developed by Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories.
According to NNSA, these qualification flight tests evaluate “both the weapon’s nonnuclear
bomb functions as well as the aircraft’s capability to deliver the weapons.” They demonstrate
“effective end-to-end system performance in a realistic ballistic flight environment.”132 These
tests are likely to continue through 2020.
Congress appropriated $788.6 million for the B61 LEP in FY2018, $794 million in FY2019, and
$792.6 million in FY2020. NNSA requested, and Congress authorized, $815.7 million for
FY2021. The Air Force is supporting the funding for the tailkit program. Congress appropriated
$148.2 million in FY2015, $212.1 million in FY2016, $137.9 million for FY2017. The Air Force
requested an additional $91.2 million in FY2018, which was a significant reduction from the
$151 million the Air Force expected to request for FY2018 when it submitted its FY2017 budget.
The FY2018 budget documents note that reduction was not the result of any expected changes in
the program and that funds may be used to address higher Air Force priorities. The Air Force also
requested $88 million in advanced procurement funding to support the acquisition of 30 tailkit
assemblies.
The Air Force requested $92 million for the research and development on the B61 tailkit in
FY2019, along with $162 million in procurement funds to support the acquisition of 250 tailkit
assemblies. The Air Force requested $27.6 million for research and development on the B61 tail
kit in FY2020, along with $80.8 million in procurement funds to support the acquisition of 533
tail kit assemblies. The Air Force has requested $35.6 million for the tail kit assembly program in
FY2021; Congress authorized this amount in the FY2021 NDAA Conference Report (H.Rept.
116-617).
This funding is designed to support the expected integration of the B61-12 into the force in the
early 2020s. However, in May 2019, NNSA indicated that the delivery of the first production unit
of the B61-12 was likely to slip after it identified defects in the electrical capacitors used in the
modified warheads. NNSA’s Kansas City National Security Campus, which acquires the

129 William J. Broad and David Sanger, “As U.S. Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, “Smaller” Leaves Some Unease,” New
York Times
, January 11, 2016. See, also, Kyle Mizokami, “Why the Pentagon’s New Nukes Are Under Fire,” Popular
Mechanics
, January 12, 2016.
130 Marina Malenic, “U.S. Completes first B-61 LEP Flight Test,” Janes Defense Weekly, July 8, 2015.
131 National Nuclear Security Administration. NNSA, Air Force complete successful end-to-end B61-12 Life Extension
Program flight tests at Tonopah Test Range
, June 29, 2018. https://www.energy.gov/nnsa/articles/nnsa-air-force-
complete-successful-end-end-b61-12-life-extension-program-flight-tests.
132 National Nuclear Security Administration, “NNSA, Air Force complete first B61-12 Life Extension Program
qualification flight test at Tonopah Test Range,” press release, April 13, 2017, https://nnsa.energy.gov/mediaroom/
pressreleases/nnsa-air-force-complete-first-b61-12-life-extension-program-qualification.
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nonnuclear parts of nuclear weapons, had determined that the capacitors might not remain reliable
for 30-year life of the modified warheads. As a result, NNSA plans to replace the capacitors that
cost about $5 per unit with $75 units built to a higher standard. This is likely to add about $600-
700 million to the cost of the W88-Alt LEP.133 NNSA does not plan to request additional funding
to make up this difference, but will, instead, shift funding from other warhead life extension and
sustainment programs.
B-52 Bomber
The Air Force maintains 76 B-52H aircraft at two bases, Barksdale, LA, and Minot, ND. Forty-
six of these bombers are capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and 40 are deployed on a day-to-
day basis.134 The B-52 bomber, which first entered service in 1961, can be equipped to carry
nuclear or conventional air-launched cruise missiles. The B-52 bombers can also deliver a wide
range of conventional arms, and are currently receiving numerous upgrades to their
communications and electronics systems.
The Air Force has proposed cutting the B-52 fleet on many occasions in the past 25 years. The
2006 Quadrennial Defense Review called for a reduction in the B-52 fleet from 94 to 56 aircraft.
The budget request for FY2007 indicated that the Air Force planned to retire 18 bombers in
FY2007 and 20 in FY2008. At the same time, the QDR called for continuing improvements to the
B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers’ conventional capabilities using the funds that were saved by the
retirement of the 38 aircraft. At hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General
James E. Cartwright, then the Commander of STRATCOM, noted that “the next generation
weapons that we’re fielding, these air-launched cruise missiles, the joint direct attack munitions,
et cetera, are much more efficient than they were in the past.”135 General Cartwright also
indicated that, in spite of the reduced size of the fleet, the Air Force would continue to deploy B-
52 bombers at two bases.
During the FY2007 budget cycle, Congress rejected the Pentagon’s proposals for at least part of
the B-52 fleet. The House prohibited the Air Force from retiring any of the B-52 aircraft, and
mandated that it maintain at least 44 “combat coded” aircraft until the Air Force began to replace
the B-52 with a new bomber of equal or greater capability.136 The Senate agreed to permit the Air
Force to retire 18 B-52 aircraft, but stated that it expected no further reduction in the size of the
force, noting that a further reductions might “prevent our ability to strike the required
conventional target set during times of war.”137 The conference committee (H.R. 5122, §131)
combined these two provisions, allowing the retirement of no more than 18 aircraft after the

133 Dan Leone, “Balky Capacitors Could Delay Two NNSA Nuke Refurb Programs,” Nuclear Security and Deterrence
Monitor
, May 10, 2019, https://www.exchangemonitor.com/balky-capacitors-delay-two-nnsa-nuke-refurb-programs/.
See, also, Aaron Mehta, “How a $5 part used to modernize nuclear warheads could cost $850 million to fix,” Defense
News
, September 25, 2019, https://www.defensenews.com/smr/nuclear-arsenal/2019/09/25/nuclear-warhead-programs-
need-850m-fix-heres-how-the-government-plans-to-cover-it/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&
utm_campaign=EBB%2009.26.19&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief.
134 Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2020,” https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/
10.1080/00963402.2019.1701286.
135 U.S. Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Hearing on Global Strike Plans and Programs. Testimony of James E.
Cartwright, Commander U.S. Strategic Command. March 29, 2006.
136 U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Armed Services. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007.
H.Rept. 109-452. May 5, 2006. p. 103.
137 U.S. Congress Senate. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. S.Rept. 109-254. May 9, 2006.
p. 94.
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submission of a report, and mandating that the Air Force retain at least 44 “combat coded”
aircraft.
In testimony before the Armed Services Committee in 2007, the Air Force indicated that it still
planned to reduce the B-52 fleet to 56 aircraft, with 32 combat coded aircraft included in the fleet.
But, in recognition of the congressional mandate, it was seeking a way to maintain 44 combat
coded aircraft, the minimum set by Congress, within the smaller fleet of 56 aircraft. It also stated
that it planned to store the 20 aircraft it wanted to retire in FY2008 on ramps at Barksdale Air
Force Base; the aircraft would be kept in serviceable condition, but would not receive any
capabilities upgrades.138 Congress once again rejected this proposal. In the FY2008 Defense
Authorization Bill (H.R. 1585, §137), Congress mandated that the Air Force maintain a fleet of
74 B-52 bombers. The conference committee indicated that the members agreed that a fleet of
fewer than 76 aircraft would be insufficient to meet long-range strike requirements.
The growing interest in long-range strike capabilities, and the continuing addition of precision
conventional weapons to these aircraft, demonstrates that the Pentagon and STRATCOM view
the U.S. bomber fleet as essential to U.S. conventional weapons capabilities. Further, the need for
long-range strike capabilities, rather than an interest in maintaining the nuclear role for
bombers,139 appeared to be driving decisions about the size and structure of the bomber fleet.
There are some indications that, during the discussions on the 2006 QDR, some in the Pentagon
argued that the all the B-52 bombers should be removed from the nuclear mission. Moreover, in
November 2008, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley noted that the role that the bombers
play in nuclear deterrence could be reduced in the future, if the United States and Russia
negotiate further reductions in their nuclear arsenals.
This focus began to shift, however, in 2008. Studies have noted that a lack of attention paid in the
Air Force and, more broadly, in DOD, to the bombers’ nuclear mission seems to be one of the
factors that led to the episode in August 2007, when a B-52 bomber flew from Minot to Barksdale
with six cruise missiles that carried live nuclear warheads.140 As is discussed in more detail below,
the Air Force is pursuing a number of organizational and procedural changes to increase its focus
on the nuclear mission and “reinvigorate” its nuclear enterprise. It has “stood-up” a B-52 bomber
squadron that will focus specifically on the nuclear mission.141 This unit added 10 bombers to the
12 already deployed at Minot. While all the B-52 bomber crews and aircraft will retain their
nuclear roles, this added squadron will participate in a greater number of nuclear exercises and
training missions. The aircraft in the squadron will rotate from other missions, but will remain
designated as the nuclear squadron for full year. The Air Force hopes this construct will improve
not only the operational proficiency of the crews, but also their morale and their confidence in the
value of the nuclear mission.
With this change, Secretary of Defense Gates stated, in April 2009, that the Air Force planned to
retain 76 B-52 bombers. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review determined that the Air Force would
retain nuclear-capable bombers, but it would also convert some B-52s to a conventional-only

138 U.S. Congress. Senate. Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. Hearing on the Fiscal Year
2008 Strategic Forces Program Budget. Statement of Major General Roger Burg. March 28, 2007. p. 8.
139 Carlo Munoz, “Donley: Role of Nuclear Bomber Fleet Could Be Curtailed,” Inside the Air Force, November 14,
2008.
140 For a detailed review of this incident see, Warrick, Joby and Walter Pincus. The Saga of a Bent Spear. Washington
Post
, September 23, 2007.
141 Marcus Weisgerber, “USAF To Activate Rotational Nuclear Bomber Squadron Next Month,” Inside Defense,
September 26, 2008.
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role. In the report on the New START force structure issued in April 2014, the Obama
Administration indicated that the United States would retain 42 deployed and 4 nondeployed
nuclear capable B-52 bombers. The remainder of the B-52 bombers would be converted to carry
only conventional weapons. In September 2015, the Air Force announced that it had begun to
convert a portion of the B-52H bomber force from nuclear to conventional-only capability, thus
removing 30 operational bombers from accountability under New START.142 The database
released after the March 2017 New START data exchange shows that the Air Force now has
converted 41 bombers conventional-only capability, which removes them from accountability
under New START.
Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) Weapons
At the end of the Cold War, the B-52 bomber was equipped to carry both the Air-Launched cruise
missile (ALCM) and Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM). The ACM reportedly had a modified
design with a lower radar cross-section, making it more “stealthy” than the ALCM. According to
Air Force figures, in 2006, the United States had 1,142 ALCMs and 394 ACMs.143 Although these
weapons represented a majority of the weapons that U.S. bombers could carry on nuclear
missions, the Department of Defense decided to retire many of these missiles. In his statement to
the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Major General Roger
Burg indicated that this study had concluded, and the Secretary of Defense had directed, that the
Air Force retire all the Advanced Cruise Missiles, although some could be converted to carry
conventional warheads, and reduce the ALCM fleet to 528 cruise missiles. The excess ALCMs
would also be eliminated, with the remaining missiles consolidated at Minot Air Force Base. With
all the ALCMs consolidated at Minot Air Force Base, the bombers at Barksdale may no longer be
included in the nuclear mission.
The Air Force plans to sustain the ALCM in the fleet through 2030. It is then planning to replace
the ALCM with a new advanced long range standoff (LRSO) cruise missile. It completed an
analysis of alternatives (AOA) for this system to “define the platform requirements, provide cost-
sensitive comparisons, validate threats, and establish measures of effectiveness, and assess
candidate systems for eventual procurement and production” of the new missile.144 The DOD
budget request for FY2014 contained $5 million for the Air Force to begin systems engineering
support for the program. The budget also indicated that the technology development phase would
begin in FY2014, and that the funding requests could reach a total of $1 billion through FY2014.
In the FY2015 budget request, DOD indicated that the plans for the LRSO missile had slipped by
three years. This change was the result of fiscal constraints and the need to fund higher priorities
elsewhere in the nuclear force. As a result, although the Air Force requested only $4.9 million for
this program in FY2015, it indicated that it would spend $221 million over the next five years.
Congress expressed concerns with this plan in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act
(P.L. 113-291, §143), noting that the existing ALCMs were, on average, over 30 years old and
that the capabilities provided by the cruise missile were “critical to maintaining a credible and

142 Department of Defense, Air Force Global Strike Command, AFGSC Completes First New START Bomber
Conversion, September 17, 2015.
143 The Air Force also has 289 ALCMs that have been converted to carry conventional warheads (CALCMs). See
Michael Sirak. DOD Studies Future Role of Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missiles. Defense Daily, March 30, 2006.
144 Department of Defense, November 2010 Update to the National Defense Authorization Act of FY2010, New START
Treaty Framework and Nuclear Force Structure Plans, Washington, DC, November 17, 2010, p. 12.
http://www.lasg.org/CMRR/Sect1251_update_17Nov2010.pdf.
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effective air-delivery leg of the nuclear triad.” The legislation requested a report on the status of
the current cruise missile and the development of the new LRSO missile.
In its FY2016 budget request, the Air Force added funding for the LRSO to accelerate the
program by two years, seeking to begin deployments in the mid-2020s. According to testimony,
the Air Force had placed a higher priority on this program because the existing ALCM had been
through several life extension programs and was beginning to show reliability problems.
According to Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for AT&L, this was making the
ALCM more difficult to maintain.145 Where the Air Force requested only $3.4 million for this
program in FY2015, it requested $36.6 million in FY2016. DOD expected this funding to
increase rapidly, to a total of nearly $1.8 billion between FY2016 and FY2020.
Congress appropriated only $16.4 million for the LRSO in FY2016, reducing the request by
$20.5 million due to delays in the award of the contract that reduced the budget requirements for
the program. The Air Force requested $95.6 million for the LRSO in FY2017; Congress approved
this amount FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 114-328). When it submitted its
FY2017 budget, the Air Force indicated that it would request $419.8 million in FY2018 and a
total of $2.1 billion between FY2018 and FY2021. The FY2018 budget request, however,
included $451.2 million for the LRSO and indicated that the Air Force planned to request over
$2.6 billion between FY2018 and FY2022. Congress approved the FY2018 request in the
National Defense Authorization Act for FY2018 (P.L. 115-91).
The Air Force requested $615 million for the LRSO in FY2019. The FY2019 budget documents
indicate that the funding increase from FY2018 to FY2019 occurred due to a “ramp up” in
Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction phase (TMRR), during which the contractors will
“continue to design, develop, integrate and test the LRSO system” to meet “validated
requirements prior to the engineering & manufacturing phase.” The Air Force requested $712.5
million for the LRSO in its FY2020 budget; Congress enacted this amount in the FY2020
National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 116-92). The Air Force has requested $474.4 million for
the LRSO in its FY2021 budget. This is consistent with the level of funding for FY2021 expected
in the FY2020 budget. Congress authorized $444.4 million for this program in the FY2021
NDAA Conference Report (H.Rept. 116-617).
In 2017, the Air Force awarded contracts to both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to execute the
LRSO Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction (TMRR) phase of the LRSO program. The
TMRR phase was due to run for 4½ years, with the selection of a single contractor due to occur in
FY2022, at the start of the engineering and manufacturing development phase. Nevertheless, in
April 2020 the Air Force announced that LRSO development would continue with Raytheon
Company as a sole-source contractor.146 In a statement, the Air Force indicated that it had decided
to focus on Raytheon’s design because the competitive TMRR phase “enabled us to select a high-
confidence design at this point in the acquisition process.”147 The Air Force indicated that it had

145 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, President Obama’s
Fiscal 2016 Budget Request for the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy, Programs and Strategy
, Hearing, 114th Cong., 1st
sess., March 4, 2014.
146 Valerie Insinna, “The Air Force made a surprise decision to sole-source the Long Range Standoff Weapon. Here’s
who will move forward,” Defense News, April 17, 2020, https://www.defensenews.com/smr/nuclear-arsenal/2020/04/
20/the-air-force-made-a-surprise-decision-to-sole-source-the-long-range-standoff-weapon-heres-who-will-move-
forward/.
147 Leah Bryant, Air Force selects single contractor for long-range standoff nuclear weapon, Air Force Nuclear
Weapons Center, Kirtland Air Force Base, NM, April 17, 2020, https://www.afnwc.af.mil/News/Article/2155284/air-
force-selects-single-contractor-for-long-range-standoff-nuclear-weapon/.
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not really down-selected to a single contractor, but that Lockheed Martin would still be involved
in maturing some of the technologies and might still have a role in future upgrades of the
system.148
NNSA is conducting a life-extension program on the W80 warhead, which will be carried by the
LRSO. Its plans for the W80-4 warhead had also slipped in the FY2015 budget, with the Nuclear
Weapons Council delaying the first production unit from 2024 until the 2025-2027 timeframe.
Congress, in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act, mandated that NNSA deliver the
first production unit of this new warhead by 2025 (P.L. 113-291, §3119). In its FY2016 budget
request, NNSA indicated that it had allocated the resources necessary to meet this requirement,
and to align the warhead life extension program with the plan to field the first LRSO missile in
FY2026. Congress appropriated $195 million for the W80-4 life extension program in FY2016
and $220 million in FY2017. NNSA requested $399 million for FY2018 and $666.4 million in
FY2019.
NNSA requested 898.6 million for the W80-4 in FY2020, an increase of 37% over the $654.8
million enacted in FY2019. Congress approved this request in the FY2020 National Defense
Authorization Act (P.L. 116-92). NNSA has requested $1 billion for the W80-4 warhead in
FY2021; Congress authorized this amount. According to its budget documents, NNSA has begun
to “ramp up engineering activities for development and design on the W80-4,” and the significant
increases in the budget request for FY2020 and FY2021 reflect an increase in the scope of work
on the program.
According to press reports, the Air Force plans to buy a total of 1,000-1,100 new cruise missiles
through the LRSO program, at a cost of around $10.8 billion, with the first missile slated for
completion in 2026.149 This total would support the testing program and deployment plans over
the life of the missile.
The LRSO program has attracted attention and significant debate among analysts outside
government and several Members of Congress. Some have questioned whether the Air Force
needed to accelerate the LRSO program and whether the United States needs and can afford to
develop and produce a new cruise missile in the coming decade. They questioned whether the
capabilities provided by the LRSO may be redundant, as the Air Force is also developing a new
penetrating bomber and proceeding with the life extension program for the B61 bomb. Moreover,
they noted that the Air Force also has conventional cruise missiles that could destroy critical
targets from beyond the reach of an adversary’s air defenses.150
During testimony before both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in 2015,
Admiral Haney, the Commander of Strategic Command (STRATCOM), noted that the LRSO is
“important from a deterrence and warfighting requirement” because it will provide Air Force
bombers with a “standoff capability” now and into the future. He noted that this standoff
capability will remain important because as more countries develop advanced air defenses, those
defenses will provide them with “anti-access/access denial” capabilities. Admiral Haney and
others have responded by noting that the capabilities are not redundant, but are complementary,
because they provide the President with more flexibility and more options in the event of a crisis.

148 John A. Tirpak, “Lockheed May Still Play a Role in Upgrading Raytheon LRSO, Once it’s Operational,” Air Force
Magazine
, April 21, 2020, https://www.airforcemag.com/lockheed-may-still-play-a-role-in-upgrading-raytheon-lrso-
once-its-operational/.
149 Kingston Reif, “Air Force Wants 1,000 New Cruise Missiles,” Arms Control Today, May 2015.
150 Council for a Liveable World. The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Is a New Cruise Missile
Necessary?
, Fact Sheet, Washington, DC, February 2, 2016, http://armscontrolcenter.org/is-a-new-nuclear-cruise-
missile-necessary/.
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In a letter to Senator Sanders in February 2016, Brian McKeon, the Principal Deputy Under
Secretary of Defense, elaborated on this point, noting that
Cruise missiles provide capabilities that complement rather than duplicate that of a stealth
bomber. Standoff capability improves the survivability of our bomber fleet, extends its
effective range, and multiplies the type and number of penetrating targets each bomber
presents to the adversary. This complicates the air defense problem facing any country
seeking to negate this portion of our deterrent.
Lieutenant General (retired) David Deptula made a similar point in a recent interview. He noted
that “LRSO will act as a force multiplier augmenting the long-range bomber force and
appreciably complicating an adversary’s ability to defend its airspace.” He indicated that the
weapons could “significantly increase the reach and target coverage” of U.S. bombers and
“amplify” the challenge to enemy air defenses “posed by a combined force of stealth bombers
and LRSO.” This would make “countermeasures both more costly and problematical for the
adversary and thus enhances deterrence.”151
B-21 Bomber
As the preceding discussion noted, the United States currently deploys two types of heavy
bombers—the B-2 and B-52—that can deliver both nuclear and conventional weapons. A third
bomber, the B-1, was initially equipped to deliver nuclear weapons but is now exclusively
dedicated to conventional missions. The Air Force has employed all three aircraft in conventional
conflicts over the past two decades, and all have received upgrades to sustain their capabilities,
but all three are aging and, according to many in the Air Force, may not be sufficient to meet
emerging challenges.
As a result, the Air Force has also begun develop a new strategic bomber, now known as the B-21
Raider. When it began this effort more than a decade ago, it hoped to introduce the new bomber
into the fleet around 2018. At the time, it was seeking a bomber with not only stealth capabilities
and long range, but also one with “persistence,” one that could “stay airborne and on call for very
long periods.”152 However, the start of the study on a new bomber, known as an Analysis of
Alternatives (AOA), was delayed by a dispute over whether the study should stand alone or be
merged with another AOA on prompt global strike (PGS) capabilities, such as hypersonic
technologies and missiles.153 General James Cartwright, the former head of STRATCOM,
reportedly supported a plan to merge the two efforts, so that the considerations of capabilities for
a new bomber would be measured alongside other systems, both to balance the force and avoid
redundancy across the force.154 On the other hand, the former Air Force Chief of Staff, General T.
Michael Moseley, reportedly preferred to keep the two studies separate. He argued that a bomber
with long-range strike capabilities must have “persistent, survivable, and penetrating capabilities”
while a platform with PGS capabilities could be a “standoff weapon that is very, very fast.”155

151 Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, “Stealthy New Nuclear Cruise Missile Aims to Deter the Enemy,” The Cipher Brief, August
8, 2017, https://www.thecipherbrief.com/article/north-america/stealthy-new-nuclear-cruise-missile-aims-deter-enemy?
utm_source=Join+the+Community+Subscribers&utm_campaign=a20baac8c6-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_08_08&
utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_02cbee778d-a20baac8c6-122497273.
152 Christie, Rebecca. Air Force To Step Up New Bomber Search in Next Budget. Wall Street Journal. June 29, 2006.
153 For details on these types of systems, see CRS Report R41464, Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range
Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues
, by Amy F. Woolf.
154 Grossman, Elaine M. Cartwright Wants to See Strike Studies Await “Discovery” Process. InsideDefense.com, April
6, 2006.
155 Bennet, John T. Internal Squabbles Holding Up Bomber Study, USAF Official Says. InsideDefense.com, April 21,
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This position reportedly prevailed, with the Air Force deciding, in May 2006, to keep the two
studies separate.156
This dispute revealed wide-ranging differences, within the Air Force and Pentagon, about the
goals for and capabilities that should be sought in a new bomber program.157 The dispute focused,
however, on conventional capabilities; it seemed to be almost a foregone conclusion that nuclear
capabilities, or the need for a bomber leg of the nuclear triad, would not drive the discussion or
analysis. This position is still evident, with the Air Force seeking a new bomber to meet
conventional challenges, and considering delaying the introduction of nuclear capabilities to save
money. But disagreements over the capabilities needed, even for the conventional mission, served
to delay the new bomber program by several years.
In May 2007, the Air Force indicated that it had decided that the next generation bomber would
be manned and subsonic, although it would incorporate some stealth characteristics.158 It decided
that it would not pursue supersonic capabilities, or an unmanned option, to contain costs and
maintain the capabilities of the future aircraft. However, on April 6, 2009, in a briefing describing
the FY2010 defense budget, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delayed the program and
indicated that the Air Force would not proceed until it had “a better understanding of the need, the
requirement and the technology.”159 He suspended the program until DOD completed the QDR
and 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) indicated that the Air Force was “reviewing
options for fielding survivable, long-range surveillance and strike aircraft as part of a
comprehensive, phased plan to modernize the bomber force.”160 The report also noted that
Secretary of Defense Gates ordered a follow-on study to the QDR to determine “what
combination of joint persistent surveillance, electronic warfare, and precision-attack capabilities,
including both penetrating platforms and stand-off weapons, will best support U.S. power
projection operations over the next two to three decades.” Secretary Gates indicated that he
expected the Air Force to field the next generation bomber in the late 2020s.161
In a report submitted to the Senate in late 2010, the Obama Administration emphasized that the
United States would maintain the bomber leg of the strategic triad and that DOD was committed
to modernizing the bomber force. The report noted that the long-range strike study was assessing
“the appropriate type of bomber and the timelines for development, production, and
deployment.”162 Secretary Gates confirmed this approach in January 2011, when he announced

2006.
156 Matishak, Martin. Long-Range, Prompt Global Strike Studies Will Remain Separate. InsideDefense.com, June 16,
2006.
157 For more details on the proposed bomber, see CRS Report RL34406, Air Force Next-Generation Bomber:
Background and Issues for Congress
, by Jeremiah Gertler.
158 Sirak, Michael. Air Force Identifies Manned, Subsonic Bomber as Most Promising 2018 Option. Defense Today.
May 2, 2007.
159 Department of Defense, Briefing by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright,
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
, Washington, DC, April 6, 2009, http://insidedefense.com/secure/data_extra/
html3/dplus2009_0893_3.htm.
160 Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, Washington, DC, February 2010, p. 33,
http://archive.defense.gov/qdr/QDR%20as%20of%2029JAN10%201600.pdf.
161 Andrea Shalal-Esa, “Gates Sees New U.S. Bomber Fielded in 2020s,” Reuters, February 2, 2010.
162 Department of Defense, November 2010 Update to the National Defense Authorization Act of FY2010, New START
Treaty Framework and Nuclear Force Structure Plans, Washington, DC, November 17, 2010, p. 11,
http://www.lasg.org/CMRR/Sect1251_update_17Nov2010.pdf.
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the Air Force would develop a new bomber “using proven technologies,” and that this bomber
would be nuclear-capable.163
Air Force officials have indicated that they hope to field between 80 and 100 of the new bombers,
now known as the B-21, with the first to enter service around 2025. It also indicated that it
planned to hold the procurement cost for each bomber to $550 million, with the total cost of the
program to reach $36-$56 billion. However, it acknowledged, in 2014, that this cost did not
include research and development funding,164 which, according to some estimates, could amount
to between $20 billion and $45 billion if the program follows the trends set by previous bomber
programs.165 The per-unit cost would also rise if the Air Force were to buy fewer than the planned
80-100 bombers. As a result, many analysts agree that the final cost of the bomber could reach
$60-$80 billion.
Congress appropriated $259 million for R&D on this aircraft in FY2013, $359.4 million in
FY2014, and $913.7 million in FY2015. These requests were sufficient to keep the bomber
program on track but led to Air Force spending levels that exceeded the levels set by the 2011
Budget Control Act. According to one analysis at the time, the Air Force would likely need to
reduce its other acquisition programs to find the “budget headroom” for this program.166 The Air
Force requested $1.3 billion for FY2016, but Congress appropriated only $736 million. According
to Air Force budget documents, this reduction reflected schedule delays in the program and the
awarding of the contract.
The Air Force announced on October 27, 2015, that it had awarded the initial contract, which
includes the production of 21 bombers, to Northrup Grumman. Analysts believe this contract is
worth more than $20 billion, but that the total cost of the program could reach $80 billion for 100
aircraft.167 This total includes development costs and the expected cost of $511 million (in 2010
dollars) for each of the 100 bombers. This represents a small reduction from the target cost of
$550 million per bomber. The lower expected cost of the bombers was reflected in the Air Force
budget request for FY2017, when the Air Force requested $1.4 billion for the B-21 instead of the
$2.2 billion that it had expected for FY2017 as noted in the FY2016 budget documents. Congress
further reduced this amount, authorizing $1.05 billion in the FY2017 National Defense
Authorization Act (P.L. 114-328). The FY2017 Air Force budget also noted that the Air Force
planned to request $12.1 billion between FY2017 and FY2021, as opposed to the $15.6 billion
expected over five years in the FY2016 budget request. The Air Force indicated that these
reductions reflected revised cost estimates following the award of the B-21 contract in late
2015.168 ;
The Air Force requested $2 billion for the B-21 bomber in its FY2018 budget, $2.3 billion in
FY2019, and 3 billion in FY2020. Congress approved most of the requested funding during these
years, although the FY2019 Defense Appropriations bill funded the program at $2.28 billion. The

163 Marcus Weisgerber, “Air Force To Develop New Long-Range, Optionally Manned Bomber,” Inside the Air Force,
January 6, 2011.
164 Aaron Mehta, “USAF General: “Of Course” Bomber Will Be More Than $550M per Copy,” Defense News, March
5, 2014.
165 Jon B. Wolfsthal, Jeffrey Lewis, and Marc Quint, The Trillion Dollar Nuclear Triad, James Martin Center for
Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey, CA, January 2014, pp. 18-19. http://www.nonproliferation.org/wp-content/
uploads/2016/04/140107_trillion_dollar_nuclear_triad.pdf.
166 Colin Clark, “LRS-B, Next Boomer May Force Weapons Cuts,” Breaking Defense, September 4, 2014.
167 Doug Cameron, “Northrop Grumman Wins Long-Range Bomber Deal,” Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2015.
168 Kingston Reif, “Budget Would Raise Nuclear Spending,” Arms Control Today, March 2016.
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Air Force requested $2.8 billion for the B-21 in its FY2021 budget;169 Congress authorized this
amount in the FY2021 NDAA Conference Report (H.Rept. 116-617).
Sustaining the Nuclear Weapons Enterprise
In late August 2007, a B-52 bomber based in Minot, ND, took off on a flight to Barksdale Air
Force Base in Louisiana. The bomber carried 12 air-launched cruise missiles that were slated for
retirement at Barksdale. As a result of a series of errors and missteps in the process of removing
the missiles from storage and loading them on the bombers, six of the missiles carried live
nuclear warheads, instead of the dummy warheads that were installed on missiles heading for
retirement. This episode was the first of many that have led to questions about the capabilities
management of the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise. It led to a series of studies and reviews by
the Air Force that identified the source of the episode and identified a number of steps the Air
Force should take to improve its handling of nuclear weapons.170 These studies were followed, in
2014, by additional studies and a number of changes designed to raise morale and the quality of
life for servicemembers in the nuclear enterprise.
In early June 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates requested the resignations of the Secretary
of the Air Force, Michael Wynne, and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Michael
Mosely, from their positions, at least in part, due to concerns that shortcomings in the Air Force’s
handling of nuclear weapons “resulted from an erosion of performance standards within the
involved commands and a lack of effective Air Force leadership oversight.”171 Secretary Gates
appointed a task force, led by former Secretary of Defense and Energy James Schlesinger, to
provide “independent advice on the organizational, procedural and policy improvements
necessary to ensure that the highest levels of accountability and control are maintained in the
department’s stewardship of nuclear weapons, delivery vehicles, sensitive components and basing
procedures.”172
Several of the studies that reviewed this event concluded that the Air Force leadership had lost its
focus on the nuclear mission as it diverted resources to more pressing missions related to the
ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, the “nuclear enterprise” had been allowed
to atrophy, with evident declines in morale, cohesion, and capability.173 These reports suggested
that the United States restore its focus on the nuclear mission and repair long-standing and often-
identified deficiencies in manpower and training programs for crews that maintain and service
nuclear weapons and operate nuclear-capable bombers. The studies identified a number of
organizational changes to achieve these goals. For example, the Air Force has created a new
Global Strike Command, based at Barksdale Air Force Base, that is responsible for both the
ICBM force and the nuclear-capable bombers. This organization began its operations in early

169 For details on the B-21 bomber, see CRS Report R44463, Air Force B-21 Raider Long-Range Strike Bomber, by
Jeremiah Gertler.
170 See, for example, The Defense Science Board Permanent Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Surety. Report on the
Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons. February 2008.
171 Nuclear Lapses Trigger Ouster of Top U.S. Air Force Officials. Global Security Newswire. June 6, 2008.
172 Department of Defense. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), “Department of Defense
Announces Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Management,” June 12, 2008.
173 See, for example, United States Air Force, Reinvigorating the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise, Prepared by the Air
Force Nuclear Task Force, Washington, DC, October 24, 2008, https://fas.org/irp/doddir/usaf/nuclear.pdf. See also,
Report of the Secretary of Defense Task Force on DOD Nuclear Weapons Management (the Schlesinger Commission),
Phase I: The Air Force’s Nuclear Mission, Washington, DC, September 2008, http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/
Phase_I_Report_Sept_10.pdf.
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2009. The Air Force has also established a new headquarters office in the Pentagon that will
monitor and manage the resources and policies dedicated to the nuclear mission. The Air Force
also altered its inspection program and its expectations for achievement during these inspections.
In a study published in April 2011, the Defense Science Board reviewed and evaluated the
changes Air Force had made in its nuclear weapons enterprise.174 The report noted that Air Force
leadership “has taken decisive action to correct deficiencies, reinvigorate, and further strengthen
the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise.”175 At the same time, though, the study noted that some of the
“extraordinary measures” taken in response to the earlier lapses could have negative impacts if
they are extended beyond the “period of urgent need.” This problem was particularly evident in
the areas of oversight and inspection. The study reported that there has been “intense attention to
the issue of accountability and control of nuclear weapons-related materials.” But the numerous
and overlapping inspections have become so frequent and invasive that the units may not have the
time or resources to correct deficiencies found during the many inspections. As a result, the task
force concluded that the intense level of inspections and exercises had become counterproductive
by interfering with the normal rhythm of operations at the wings.176
Several incidents that occurred in 2013 and early 2014 raised new concerns about the capabilities
and morale of ICBM launch officers. For example, press reports from May 2013 noted that the
Air Force had removed 17 launch officers from duty at Minot Air Force Base and had sent them
for additional training after they earned low scores on an inspection in March.177 In August, a
missile unit at Malmstrom Air Force Base also received a failing grade on an inspection. Air
Force officials expressed concern about these results, but noted that they remained confident in
the capabilities of Air Force nuclear officers. After the incident in Minot, some saw the
commander’s response, and the remedial action, as a sign of progress in the force, because
problems were identified and corrected on site. Others have noted that unsatisfactory results in
inspections may be the result of higher expectations, and do not necessarily indicate deeper
problems. Others, however, view the low scores on inspections as a symptom of continuing
problems in the force.
In January 2014, press reports indicated that nuclear launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base
had been implicated in a drug investigation. While investigating this charge, the Air Force
discovered that 34 of launch officers may have been cheating on their monthly proficiency
exams. In response to this event, Secretary of Defense Hagel ordered an internal review of
nuclear weapons personnel issues and commissioned another outside study of morale and
effectiveness in the nuclear enterprise. As this review proceeded, the Air Force questioned
whether some officers in the nuclear force may be experiencing “burnout” and boredom in a
mission that seemed connected to an earlier time and whether the tense atmosphere created by the
frequent testing and inspection regimes has created incentives to cheat to produce perfect
scores.178
The Air Force responded to these problems with plans to increase funding by nearly $8 billion
over five years, beginning in FY2015, to raise pay levels, introduce new management positions,

174 Defense Science Board Permanent Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Surety, Independent Assessment of The Air
force Nuclear Enterprise
, Washington, DC, April 2011, https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a552762.pdf.
175 Ibid., p. 16.
176 Ibid., pp. 22-23.
177 Robert Burns, “Air Force Sidelines 17 ICBM launch officers: commander cites ‘rot’ within system,” Associated
Press
, May 8, 2013.
178 R. Jeffrey Smith, “Aiming High: Boredom, Drugs, Low Morale. The millennials of the U.S. nuclear missile corps
are struggling to stay on high alert for a nuclear Armageddon,” Slate, April 2014.
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modify the testing process, and raise morale among Air Force ICBM officers. In its FY2018
budget request, the Air Force indicated that it planned to spend an additional $3 billion over the
next five years. Many of these plans are designed to highlight the high value that Air Force places
on the ICBM mission and to convince airmen that their leaders value their effort and
accomplishment. At the same time, though, the changes will require additional funding, and the
Air Force will need to request increases in its budget in an era of fiscal restraint to follow through
on these initiatives.
While the Air Force has increased funding and altered testing and training procedures to address
many of these concerns, the Department of Defense has also sought to emphasize the value and
priority placed on this mission within the department. For example, Secretary of Defense Ashton
Carter visited Minot Air Force Base in September 2016, when he noted that “America’s nuclear
deterrence is the bedrock of our security, and the highest priority mission of the Department of
Defense.”179 Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper conducted a similar visit to Minot in February
2020. In his comments, he noted that “the nuclear strategic triad is the most important part of our
military … it provides that strategic nuclear deterrent that we depend on day after day, that we've
depended on decade after decade.”180
In April 2020, the Pentagon outlined its plans to maintain the capabilities and readiness of the
nuclear enterprise during the Covid-19 pandemic. On April 22, General John Hyten, the Vice-
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the Pentagon would expand its testing
program for the virus using a four-tier system, with forces involved “in critical national
capabilities such as strategic deterrence or nuclear deterrence” included in the first tier.181 The Air
Force and Navy also outlined plans to monitor and quarantine airmen and sailors prior to their
deployments to maintain deterrence and minimize the risk to force. Analysts have noted that some
of these steps may have been easier to implement in the nuclear weapons community because it is
designed to work autonomously and in isolation so that it can “keep operating even in the
aftermath a nuclear conflict or amid a biological weapons attack.”182
Issues for Congress
This report focuses on the numbers and types of weapons in the U.S. strategic nuclear force
structure. It does not address the broader question of why the United States chooses to deploy
these numbers and types of weapons, or more generally, the role that U.S. nuclear weapons play
in U.S. national security strategy. However, as the Trump Administration reviews and possibly
revises the plans for U.S. nuclear force structure, Congress could address broader questions about
the relationship between these forces and the role of nuclear weapons.

179 Ashton Carter, Sustaining Nuclear Deterrence, U.S. Department of Defense, Remarks, Minot, ND, September 26,
2016, https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Speeches/Speech/Article/956630/remarks-on-sustaining-nuclear-deterrence/
.
180 Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, Media Availability at Minot AFB, Department of Defense, Minot, ND,
February 19, 2020, https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2088918/secretary-of-defense-
dr-mark-t-esper-media-availability-at-minot-afb/.
181 Jim Garamone, “DOD Starts Tiered COVID-19 Testing Process to Ensure Safety,” DOD News, April 22, 2020,
https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/2160008/dod-starts-tiered-covid-19-testing-process-to-ensure-
safety/.
182 Bryan Bender, “How the nuclear force dodged the coronavirus,” Politico, April 23, 2020, https://www.politico.com/
news/2020/04/23/nuclear-force-coronavirus-205230?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=
EBB%2004.24.20&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief.
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Force Size
In 2001, the Bush Administration argued that, because the United States and Russia were no
longer enemies, the United States would not size or structure its nuclear forces simply to deter the
“Russian threat.” Instead, nuclear weapons would play a broader role in U.S. national security
strategy. The Obama Administration, in contrast, noted that there is a relationship between the
size of the U.S. arsenal and the size of the Russian arsenal. The 2010 NPR states that
Russia’s nuclear force will remain a significant factor in determining how much and how
fast we are prepared to reduce U.S. forces. Because of our improved relations, the need for
strict numerical parity between the two countries is no longer as compelling as it was during
the Cold War. But large disparities in nuclear capabilities could raise concerns on both
sides and among U.S. allies and partners, and may not be conducive to maintaining a stable,
long-term strategic relationship, especially as nuclear forces are significantly reduced.183
The Trump Administration, in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, stated that the “global threat
conditions have worsened markedly since the most recent, 2010 NPR.” It emphasized that
“Russia and China are contesting the international norms” and that “Russia and North Korea have
increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans and have engaged in
increasingly explicit nuclear threats.” As a result, it stated that the 2018 NPR is “strategy driven
and provides guidance for the nuclear force structure and policy requirements needed now and in
the future to maintain peace and stability in a rapidly shifting environment with significant future
uncertainty.”184
The Bush Administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review determined that the United States
would need to maintain between 1,700 and 2,200 operationally deployed nuclear warheads. The
Bush Administration also indicated that the United States would maintain in storage many of the
warheads removed from deployed forces, and would maintain the capability to restore some of
these warheads to the deployed forces to meet unexpected contingencies. The Obama
Administration concluded, in its NPR, that the United States could reduce its forces to 1,550
deployed warheads, and agreed to do so under the New START Treaty, but it also planned to
retain the capability to restore warheads to its deployed forces. It also planned to retain many
warheads in storage.185
In 2013, the Obama Administration determined that the United States could reduce its numbers of
deployed and nondeployed warheads further, but would only do so in parallel with Russia. In
June 2013, the Department of Defense completed a new study, as a follow-up to the NPR, to
determine how deeply the United States might reduce its forces, and how it should deploy the
remaining forces. Press reports indicate the Pentagon reviewed a number of alternatives in this
study, with some contemplating reductions as low as 300 warheads,186 but the Administration
concluded that the United States could reduce U.S. deployed strategic forces by about one-third,

183 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, April 6, 2010, p. 30, https://dod.defense.gov/
Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.
184 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, pp. 2-3,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
185 On May 3, 2010, the Obama Administration announced that the United States has 5,113 warheads in its stockpile of
nuclear weapons. This number includes the deployed warheads, active nondeployed warheads and inactive
nondeployed warheads. For more information, see http://www.defense.gov/npr/docs/10-05-
03_Fact_Sheet_US_Nuclear_Transparency__FINAL_w_Date.pdf.
186 R. Jeffrey Smith, “Obama Embraces Big Nuke Cuts,” Foreign Policy, February 8, 2013.
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to a level of 1,000-1,100 warheads, if it did so along with Russia. They United States would not
proceed with unilateral cuts in the U.S. arsenal.187
The Trump Administration did not directly address questions about the size of the U.S. nuclear
arsenal in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. It indicated that it would continue to support the
implementation of New START, at least through 2021, and that it would continue to pursue the
nuclear modernization programs that began during the Obama Administration. It stated that, as a
part of this modernization program, the United States would deploy a minimum of 12 Columbia
class submarines and 400 missiles within 450 launch facilities under the GBSD program.188 It did
not, however, offer recommendations on the numbers of warheads that would be deployed on
these missiles or indicate whether the United States would remain within the limits established by
New START after the treaty expired.
In 2018, Rear Admiral John Tammen, the Navy’s director for submarine warfare, said that the
Navy would keep the production line for Columbia class submarines open, after completing the
12 submarines, to maintain the option of increasing the size of the fleet.189 Moreover, the Navy’s
30-year shipbuilding plan includes a line for 5 additional heavy missile submarines, after the
completion of the Columbia class program, that might serve as replacements for the Ohio-class
cruise missile submarines.
Also in 2018, General John Hyten, then the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, noted that
the size and structure of the U.S. nuclear force is determined by the threats faced by the United
States. He noted that, if the United States wanted to reduce the size of the force and curtail
spending on nuclear modernization, it would have to reduce the threat, possibly by “renegotiating
arms control treaties to further reduce the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia.”190
Over the years, analysts have questioned why the United States must maintain a large force of
nuclear weapons. They have questioned whether the United States would attack with such a large
number of weapons if its own national survival were not at risk, and they note that only Russia
currently has the capability to threaten U.S. national survival. They assert that the United States
could likely meet any other potential contingency with a far smaller force of nuclear weapons.
Some have concluded, instead, that the United States could maintain its security with a force of
between 500 and 1,000 warheads.191 Others, however, dispute this view and note that the United
States has other potential adversaries, and, even if these nations do not possess thousands of
nuclear warheads, some may expand their nuclear forces or chemical and biological capabilities
in the future. Some have argued that the United States also needs to assure its allies of its
commitment to their security, and this goal could require a force of significant size, regardless of
the number of potential targets an adversary nation might possess. They also argue that a

187 Department of Defense, Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States, Washington, DC, June 12,
2013, p. 6, https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a590745.pdf.
188 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, pp. 49-50,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
189 Richard R. Burgess, “Navy Submarine Warfare Director: Navy to Keep Columbia SSBN Line ‘Hot’ After 12th
Boat,” Seapower, November 8, 2018. http://seapowermagazine.org/stories/20181108-Columbia.html?platform=
hootsuite.
190 Valerie Insinna, “STRATCOM head on key lawmaker’s arms control agenda: ‘If you want to save money, change
the threat’,” Defense News, November 15, 2018. https://www.defensenews.com/space/2018/11/15/stratcom-head-on-
key-lawmakers-arms-control-agenda-if-you-want-to-save-money-change-the-threat/.
191 See, for example, Sidney D. Drell and James E. Goodby. What Are Nuclear Weapons For? Recommendations for
Restructuring U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces. Arms Control Association, Updated October 2007.
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“minimum deterrent” of only a few hundred warheads would require a strategy of targeting an
adversary’s cities and population centers, rather than military capabilities. They note that this
strategy has been rejected by both Republican and Democratic Administrations throughout the
nuclear age.192
Force Structure
When the Bush Administration announced the results of the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, it
indicated that the United States would retain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers for
the foreseeable future. The Obama Administration also offered continuing support for the
retention of the strategic triad. Robert Scher, then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy,
Plans, and Capabilities, reiterated the Obama Administration’s support for the nuclear triad in
testimony before Congress. He argued that the United States needed to “maintain a deterrent that
is inherently robust and stable,” even though the United States did not need “to mirror every
potential adversary, system-for-system or yield-for-yield.” He indicated that the Obama
Administration believed that the triad continued to “provide the credibility, flexibility, and
survivability to meet and adapt to the challenges of a dynamic 21st century security
environment.”193
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review offers a similar justification for retaining the nuclear triad. It
notes that “the triad’s synergy and overlapping attributes help ensure the enduring survivability of
our deterrence capabilities against attack and our capacity to hold a range of adversary targets at
risk throughout a crisis or conflict. Eliminating any leg of the triad would greatly ease adversary
attack planning and allow an adversary to concentrate resources and attention on defeating the
remaining two legs.” It also lists additional capabilities and attributes that it views as essential to
meeting U.S. deterrence needs, and argues that “the multiplicity of platforms, weapons, and
modes of operation inherent in the triad and U.S. non-strategic nuclear forces, provide a
significant margin of flexibility and resilience.”194
Congress has also offered its support for the retention of the nuclear triad. The FY2017 National
Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 114-328, Section 1671) states the modernization of the nuclear
triad is a key element “in support of a strong and credible nuclear deterrent.” The Trump
Administration is also likely to continue to support the nuclear triad. Although, as a candidate,
President Trump seemed unfamiliar with the concept of the triad, Secretary of Defense Mattis
offered his support during his confirmation hearings in January 2017.
As the Obama Administration outlined plans to modernize and replace the delivery vehicles in all
three legs of the strategic triad, many analysts began to question whether the United States could
afford to retain the triad and whether it could retain a robust deterrent without one of the current
types of strategic delivery vehicles.195 Specifically, some called for reductions in or even the
elimination of the U.S. ICBM force. Others noted that, with financial pressures and restricted

192 Dr. Keith B. Payne, Why Do US Nuclear Force Numbers Matter for Deterrence?, National Insititue for Public
Policy, Information Series, Washington, DC, March 9, 2016, http://www.nipp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/IS-
404.pdf.
193 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Nuclear Acquisition
Programs and the Nuclear Doctrine
, Hearing, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., February 9, 2016.
194 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, p. 43,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
195 Mark Thompson, “Nuclear Triad Warfare,” Time Magazine, October 18, 2011.
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Pentagon budgets, the Air Force may not be able to afford a new ICBM after 2030. Moreover,
even if the financial pressures did not exist, some argued the Air Force should eliminate the
ICBM force because it no longer served U.S. national security needs. For example, in a study
published in May 2012,196 the Global Zero Organization argued for the elimination of the ICBM
force because it views these missiles as dangerous and destabilizing in the current security
environment. It noted that “ICBMs can only support nuclear wartime operations against Russia”
and that current-generation ICBMs “fired from the existing bases, on their minimum energy
trajectories,” have to overfly Russia and China or fly near Russia to reach targets in potentially
adversarial countries. It contended that, if U.S. missiles fly over or near Russia on their way to
more southerly targets in Iran or Syria, Russia might be confused by ambiguous attack indications
and might then launch its own retaliatory attack against the United States. Second, the report
asserted that, because ICBMs are based in fixed silos that are vulnerable to destruction in an
attack, they must depend heavily upon “launch on warning” to survive and retaliate in some
scenarios. As a result, according to the report, ICBMs exacerbate the risk that the United States
might launch its weapons on false warning.
Former Secretary of Defense William Perry has also questioned the future need for the ICBM
force. He noted that ICBMs are not an essential part of the U.S. nuclear deterrent because the
bomber force and SSBN force are sufficient to promise an overwhelming response if the United
States is attacked. Specifically, he said that “any sane nation would be deterred by the incredible
striking power of our submarine force.”197 He suggested that the United States could keep its
ICBM force for a number of years, but that he would not recapitalize it through the GBSD
program.
Analysts who support the continued deployment of U.S. ICBMs dispute many of these assertions.
First, they noted that, although each individual ICBM silo may be vulnerable to destruction if
targeted by several incoming warheads, an attack that threatened to destroy the entire U.S. ICBM
force would have to consist of hundreds, if not thousands of attacking warheads.198 This is
because the United States maintains nearly 450 ICBM silos hardened against nuclear blast, and an
attacker would have to target two or three warheads against each silo to ensure their destruction.
Further, because the United States now deploys each Minuteman missile with only a single
warhead, the attacker would have to expend two to three times as many warheads as he could
hope to destroy. This calculation underpins the conclusion, which is widespread among nuclear
policy analysts, that single-warhead ICBMs enhance stability and discourage attack because they
are not lucrative targets.199 As General Robert Kehler, a former commander of U.S. STRATCOM,
has noted, ICBMs remain “a mainstay of deterrence, as a hedge against unforeseen technical
problems or geopolitical events, and as an enabler for other operational needs such as adjusting

196 Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission, Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure, and Posture,
Global Zero, Washington, DC, May 2012, https://www.princeton.edu/sgs/faculty-staff/bruce-blair/
gz_us_nuclear_policy_report.pdf.
197 Daniel Horner and Kingston Reif, “Lowering Nuclear Risks: An Interview with Former Secretary of Defense
William Perry,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2016, http://www.armscontrol.org/ACT/2016_0102/Features/
Interviews/Lowering-Nuclear-Risks-An-Interview-With-Former-Defense-Secretary-William-Perry.
198 See, for example, Senate ICBM Coalition, The Long Pole of the Nuclear Umbrella, A White Paper on the Criticality
of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile to the United States Security, Washington, DC, November 2009. See also, Peter
Huessy, “In Defense of the Nuclear Triad.” Defense One, October 18, 2013, http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2013/
10/defense-nuclear-triad/72242/?oref=search_Huessy.
199 See, for example, the comments of General Larry Welch, before the NDIA and ROA Congressional Breakfast
Seminar Series, May 25, 2012, http://www.afa.org/hbs/transcripts/5-25-2012%20Gen%20Larry%20Welch%20v2.pdf.
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at-sea operations of the SSBN fleet when needed for major submarine maintenance or
modernization.”200
Some analysts have also argued that the United States could reduce the size of its SLBM fleet and
retain only 8 or 10 submarines. They argued that this reduction now, and the future acquisition of
fewer replacement submarines, could save the Navy $6-$7 billion over the next 10 years.201 They
also noted that this change need not reduce the number of operational warheads on SLBMs,
because the United States could deploy each submarine with 24 missiles, rather than the 20
planned under New START, and could increase the number of warheads on each missile.
However, with so few submarines, the United States might have to eliminate one of its submarine
bases, leaving it with submarines based only in the Atlantic or only in the Pacific Ocean. Or the
United States might have to reduce the number of submarines on station, and, therefore, the
number of warheads available to the President promptly, at the start of a conflict. These changes
may not be consistent with current submarine operations and employment plans.
Analysts outside government have also questioned plans to replace the air-launched cruise missile
(ALCM) with the new long-range strike missile (LRSO) in the 2020s. Some argue that this
missile will be redundant, as the Air Force is already planning to deploy a new penetrating
bomber. They note that, during the 1980s, the United States deployed cruise missiles both to
extend the service life of the B-52 bombers, which could no longer penetrate Soviet air defenses,
and to provide a means to attack and destroy those air defenses prior to follow-on attacks with
penetrating bombers.202 But, according to the program’s critics, if the Air Force deploys 100 new
bombers that can penetrate advanced air defenses, it will not need cruise missiles to destroy those
defenses. Moreover, even if the United States does plan to attack an adversary’s air defenses, it
could do so with existing conventional cruise missiles, such as the extended range version of the
Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) missile.203
The Air Force has disputed the assertion that the bomber and cruise missile capabilities are
redundant. Air Force officials have noted that the two systems are complementary, with each
providing different capabilities for the United States and different profiles that would complicate
an adversary’s attempts to defend against a U.S. attack.204 Some analysts also note that advanced
air defense systems have proliferated among potential U.S. adversaries, and that these capabilities
“make it harder for our forces to reach their targets.” Deploying both penetrating bombers and
long-range cruise missiles, therefore, will strengthen the U.S. nuclear deterrent.205
In addition to debating the value of each of the legs of the nuclear triad, some analysts have
addressed questions about whether the United States should develop and deploy new types of
nuclear weapons in response to the challenges posed by emerging nuclear adversaries. Attention

200 General C. Robert Kehler, USAF (ret.), The U.S. Needs a New ICBM Now, National Institute for Public Policy,
Information Series, Fairfax, VA, August 2019, p. 3, https://www.nipp.org/2019/08/16/kehler-c-robert-the-u-s-needs-a-
new-icbm-now/.
201 Daryl G. Kimball, “Defuse the Exploding Costs of Nuclear Weapons,” Arms Control Today, December 2012, p. 4.
202 William J. Perry and Andy Weber, “Mr. President, kill the new cruise missile,” Washington Post, October 15, 2015.
See, also, Tom Nichols, “The 1980s Called. “They Don’t Need Their Cruise Missile Back.” The National Interest,
November, 3, 2015.
203 Hans Kristensen, “LRSO—The Nuclear Cruise Missile Mission,” Strategic Security Blog, Federation of American
Scientists
, October 20, 2015. http://fas.org/blogs/security/2015/10/lrso-mission/.
204 Bryan Bender, “Air Force Questions Call to Cancel new Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missile,” Politico, October 25,
2015.
205 Mel Deaile and Al Mauroni, “Why We Still Need a Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missile,” War on the Rocks, October 26,
2015. http://warontherocks.com/2015/10/why-we-still-need-a-nuclear-armed-cruise-missile/.
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has focused, in particular, on lower-yield weapons. Some argue that these weapons would
strengthen deterrence by giving the United States more limited, tailored, and, therefore, credible
options for nuclear use than are currently available with higher-yield weapons.206 Others,
however, argue that the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons could undermine deterrence
and make nuclear war more likely, because they might be seen as a more “usable” nuclear
weapons.
Press reports indicate that a Defense Science Board study completed in December 2016 called for
the Pentagon to consider the deployment of lower-yield nuclear weapons and the development of
options for the limited use of nuclear weapons.207 In early February 2017, General David
Goldfein, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, indicated that he also thought the nuclear posture
review should consider the development of lower-yield warheads, as a part of a new look at “what
constitutes deterrence in the 21st century.”208
The Trump Administration addressed this issue during its Nuclear Posture Review and concluded
that “in the near-term, the United States will modify a small number of existing SLBM warheads
to provide a low-yield option.” This is the W76-2 warhead described above, which is now
deployed on a small number of Trident II D-5 missiles. The NPR noted that the United States has
long maintained cruise missile warheads and B61 bombs that provide a low-yield option, but
argued that a low-yield SLBM warhead will “ensure a prompt response option that is able to
penetrate adversary defenses.”209 The NPR asserted that this “supplement” to the U.S. nuclear
force posture would enhance deterrence by “denying potential adversaries any mistaken
confidence that limited nuclear employment can provide a useful advantage over the United
States and its allies.”
The NPR’s rationale for a new low-yield SLBM warhead differs, in some respects, from the
debate evident in the literature over the past few years. Where the previous debate focused on the
possible need for a low-yield warhead in regional scenarios, the NPR specifically points to
Russia’s nuclear doctrine and Russia’s purported “escalate to de-escalate strategy” as the
justification for this warhead. The NPR argues that Russia “mistakenly assesses that the threat of
nuclear escalation or actual first use of nuclear weapons would serve to ‘de-escalate’ a conflict on
terms favorable to Russia.”210 The NPR, therefore, “concluded that a new capability was required
to ensure the Russian leadership does not miscalculate regarding the consequences of limited
nuclear first use.... Russia must instead understand that nuclear first use, however limited, will fail
to achieve its objectives, fundamentally alter the nature of a conflict, and trigger incalculable and
intolerable costs for Moscow.” According to one analyst, by modifying a small number of W-76
warheads, the United States will “strengthen Russian perceptions of U.S. credibility and will.”211

206 Clark Murdock et al., “Project Atom: A Competitive Strategies Approach to Defining U.S. Nuclear Strategy and
Posture for 2025-2050,” CSIS, May 2015, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/
publication/150716_Murdock_ProjectAtom_Web_Rev2.pdf.
207 John M. Donnelly, “Pentagon Panel Urges Trump Team to Expand Nuclear Options,” CQ Roll Call, February 2,
2017.
208 John M. Donnelly, “Top Air Force General Open to Changes in Nuclear Arms,” CQ Roll Call, February 7, 2017.
209 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, pp. 54-55,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
210 Ibid., p. 8.
211 Frank Miller, “Addressing Fears About the Nuclear Posture Review and Limited Nuclear Use,” War on the Rocks,
February 28, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/02/addressing-fears-nuclear-posture-review-limited-nuclear-use/?
utm_content=buffer7699f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.
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Analysts outside government have raised a number of concerns about the possible deployment of
a low-yield version of the W76 warhead.212 Some have argued that, because the United States
already has warheads with low-yield options on cruise missiles and B61 bombs, it already has the
flexibility and means to deter Russia’s escalation to low-yield nuclear weapons during a
conventional conflict. Others argue that the new warhead will add little to the U.S. deterrent
capability because Russia would be unable to determine the yield of an attacking warhead until it
had detonated. Moreover, if Russia could not determine the yield of the warhead, and chose to
retaliate before assessing the yield, the U.S. use of a low-yield warhead could lead Russia to
escalate to a much broader and more destructive nuclear conflict.
Those who support the W76-2 warhead have responded to these concerns by noting that Russia is
not likely to escalate to full-scale nuclear war before confirming the nature of the U.S. attack. In
addition, some have pointed out that because the U.S. goal is to deter Russian nuclear use in the
first place, concerns about how the war might unfold if deterrence failed are highly speculative.
They believe that a U.S. low-yield warhead would raise the nuclear threshold because the United
States would be more likely to respond to Russia’s use of low-yield nuclear weapons if it had a
low-yield option of its own. Because Russia would know that the United States had this option,
Russia would be less likely to escalate to nuclear use during a conventional conflict.
The Cost of Nuclear Weapons
When the Obama Administration submitted the 1251 report to the Senate during the New START
ratification process, it indicated that it expected to spend around $210 billion over 10 years (2011-
2021) to maintain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This total covered mostly research and
development funding, but not the costs of producing and procuring the next generation of
submarines, bombers, and missiles, as these activities would occur after the timeframe contained
in the report. Moreover, it became evident, as Congress reviewed the Administration’s plans to
modernize the nuclear enterprise, that it was difficult to determine how much the United States
spent each year on nuclear weapons, as the funding was divided between the Department of
Defense and the Department of Energy, and, in many cases, was combined with funding for other,
nonnuclear activities. In other words, the United States does not maintain a single, unified budget
for nuclear weapons and other nuclear activities.
Consequently, in 2012, Congress directed the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to estimate the
costs of U.S. plans for operating, maintaining, and modernizing nuclear weapons, the delivery
systems, and the DOE nuclear weapons complex over the next 10 years. CBO issued its report in
late 2013.213 It found that the United States was likely to spend $355 billion over the next 10
years on its nuclear weapons enterprise. This total included $56 billion for command, control,
communications, and early warning activities and $59 billion for additional costs based on
historical cost growth of similar programs. Neither of these categories had been included in the
Administration’s estimate in 2010. When CBO considered the same categories as the
Administration, it estimated 10-year spending of $241 billion, a number close to the estimate
provided by the Administration. CBO updated its estimate in January 2015, and reported that it
calculated that the United States would spend $348 billion between 2015 and 2024; excluding
command and control and cost growth, the total that was comparable to the Administration’s

212 For a summary of the issues raised during the debate on low-yield SLBM warheads, see CRS In Focus IF11143, A
Low-Yield, Submarine-Launched Nuclear Warhead: Overview of the Expert Debate
, by Amy F. Woolf.
213 Congressional Budget Office, Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2014-2023, Washington, DC, December
2013, http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/12-19-2013-NuclearForces.pdf.
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2010 estimate was now $247 billion. CBO updated its report again in February 2017, estimating
that the United States would spend $400 billion on nuclear weapons between 2017 and 2026.
Congress also mandated that the DOD and DOE provide 10-year cost estimates of the expected
costs of nuclear weapons programs, and that GAO evaluate the cost estimates. In July 2017, GAO
released its review of the DOD and DOE combined report for FY2017. The combined report
estimates that the costs of sustaining and modernizing nuclear delivery systems, the nuclear
command and control system, the nuclear stockpile, and the nuclear security enterprise will total
$342 billion between FY2017 and FY2026.
Both the CBO studies and the DOD/DOE reports indicate that the United States is on track to
spend, on average, $35-$40 billion per year as it sustains and modernizes its nuclear weapons
programs. This indicates that the United States could spend at least $1-$1.2 trillion on nuclear
weapons programs and modernization over the next 30 years. This estimate is consistent with
others that have been presented by organizations outside government. For example, in January
2014, analysts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimated that the United
States might spend $1 trillion, or an average of just over $30 billion per year, over the next 30
years, to modernize its nuclear enterprise.214 In addition, in a briefing prepared in May 2013, the
Air Force estimated that the investments in nuclear modernization programs would peak in
between 2025 and 2035, at approximately $30 billion per year.215
While there appears to be a broad base of agreement about the magnitude of the costs that the
United States is likely to incur as it modernizes its nuclear arsenal, there has been less agreement
about whether the United States can, or should, proceed with all of these programs. Many
analysts have noted that, with the passage of the Budget Control Act in 2011, the amount of
funding available for defense spending was $1 trillion lower than expected when the Obama
Administration first outlined the nuclear modernization program. Consequently, rising costs for
nuclear weapons programs could cut into funding for other Pentagon priorities.
While Congress repeatedly raised the caps in the Budget Control Act, increasing spending on
defense programs and reducing the pressure on the modernization programs, the problem may not
disappear after the Budget Control Act expires in 2021. As noted in a recent report by a well-
known budget analyst, the Trump Administration’s five-year defense spending plan remains
relatively flat, and “a defense budget that roughly keeps pace with inflation means that the
military loses buying power.”216 Representative Adam Smith, who chairs the House Armed
Services Committee, has also questioned the costs and direction of the U.S. nuclear
modernization programs. He has noted that “we need to take a responsible approach to the
nuclear weapons enterprise, and recognize that the current $1.5 trillion plan to build new nuclear
weapons and upgrade our nuclear weapons complex is unrealistic and unaffordable.”217

214 Jon B. Wolfsthal, Jeffrey Lewis, and Marc Quint, The Trillion Dollar Nuclear Triad, James Martin Center for
Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey, CA, January 2014, http://www.nonproliferation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/
140107_trillion_dollar_nuclear_triad.pdf.
215 For a copy of General Kowalski’s briefing slides, see http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/nukes/nuclearweapons/
AFGSC-CommandBrief-May2013.pdf.
216 Mackenzie Eaglen, “Don’t Expect Any Trump Boost To Defense Spending,” Breaking Defense, November 19,
2018. https://breakingdefense.com/category/strategy-and-policy/.
217 Rachel Cohen, “Nuclear modernization programs could face renewed scrutiny in Democrat-controlled House,”
Inside Defense, November 7, 2018. https://insidedefense.com/inside-air-force/nuke-programs-could-face-renewed-
scrutiny-democrat-controlled-house.
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Others, however, argue that the United States not only can afford to bear the costs of these
systems, but cannot afford the costs of failing to modernize its nuclear arsenal. Admiral Haney,
then the Commander of Strategic Command, made this point in a hearing before the House
Armed Services Committee in 2015, when he said that “achieving strategic deterrence in the 21st
century requires continued investment in strategic capabilities and renewed multigenerational
commitment of intellectual capital.” He noted that, as the modernization programs progressed,
spending on nuclear weapons was likely to rise from around 2.5%-3% of DOD’s budget to
around 5%-6% of that budget in the late 2020s to 2030s. When asked whether the United States
could afford to make this investment, he noted that other nations have been modernizing their
forces and continued to pose an “existential threat” to the United States. He noted that “in order to
maintain and sustain its strategic stability, it’s very important that we have that kind of balance”
with these nations.218
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review offered a similar response to concerns about the cost of the
nuclear modernization programs. It noted that DOD currently spends 2%-3% of its budget to
maintain and operate the nuclear force; this will rise to about 6.4% of its budget at the
“highpoint” of the modernization program.219 This total does not include the costs associated with
NNSA’s life extension programs or the recommended investment in recapitalization of NNSA’s
infrastructure. Moreover, although Congress has raised the caps in the Budget Control Act to
allow for additional spending on defense, the analysis in the NPR does not address questions
about whether the nuclear modernization will compete with other DOD priorities for scarce
funding.
The Covid-19 pandemic could eventually lead to reductions in defense spending as the United
States sharply increases funding to support the broader economy, or reductions in procurement
spending as the Pentagon seeks to bolster funding for personnel and readiness programs.
Consequently, questions about the need for trade-offs in an environment of limited resources
could again fuel debates about the scope of the nuclear modernization programs.220

Author Information

Amy F. Woolf

Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy


218 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, President Obama’s Fiscal
2016 Budget Request on Strategic Forces
, Hearing, 114th Cong., 1st sess., February 26, 2015.
219 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, February 2, 2018, p. 51,
https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-
REPORT.PDF.
220 Joe Gould, “Storm clouds await Pentagon’s request for defense industry cash injection,” Defense News, April 27,
2020, https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2020/04/27/storm-clouds-await-pentagons-request-for-defense-industry-
cash/#.XqcSJq0NxBM.twitter.
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